In a bold move that ruffled some Republican feathers, the Biden team put a stop to the last seven oil and gas contracts in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge last Wednesday. They rolled back deals made during Trump’s final moments in office and suggested beefing up protection in big parts of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Earlier, the Biden people upset some green groups by giving the thumbs-up to the Willow oil project in the reserve. That’s a huge project by ConocoPhillips Alaska which could pump out as much as 180,000 barrels of oil every day from Alaska’s oil-rich North Slope. Now, they’re talking about safeguarding more than 20,000 square miles of this western Arctic land.
Some people felt that saying yes to Willow went against Biden’s talk about fighting climate change. But they cheered Wednesday’s news. Still, they whispered, “there’s more work to do.” There’s a court case hanging over the Willow project’s okay.
“Alaska is home to many of America’s most breathtaking natural wonders and culturally significant areas. As the climate crisis warms the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages,” Biden shared.
His actions “meet the urgency of the climate crisis” and will “protect our lands and waters for generations to come,” Biden added.
Alaska’s top Republican wasn’t happy with the president’s choices and hinted at a lawsuit. A Democrat even said the decision might not be great for local Indigenous people. In that place, oil gigs are big for the wallet.
Deb Haaland, the big boss of Interior, got some heat for giving the Willow project a nod. But on Wednesday, she was like, “no one will have rights to drill for oil in one of the most sensitive landscapes on Earth.” Yet, a 2017 rule says there’s got to be another sale by 2024. The Biden crew plans to follow that rule.
They also threw out some ideas to boost protection against more oil deals in certain parts of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. People still have to give their two cents about this. Willow’s in that reserve, but these new rules probably won’t touch it.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is like a sacred spot for the Indigenous Gwich’in. It’s where their caribou buddies roam, hang out, and have babies. It’s a place of hills, rivers, lakes, and lots of green. Birds and beasts like caribou, polar bears, and wolves call it home.
Alaska’s bigwigs, including a few Democrats, have been pushing to let people dig for oil because it puts money in pockets, especially for Indigenous people with not many job choices. Many said, “Come on, Biden, let the Willow thing happen.”
U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, a Democrat, wasn’t thrilled. She said the Willow project showed Biden listened to Alaskans. “I am deeply frustrated by the reversal of these leases in ANWR,” she mentioned. “This administration showed that it is capable of listening to Alaskans with the approval of the Willow Project, and it is some of those same Inupiat North Slope communities who are most impacted by this decision. I will continue to advocate for them and for Alaska’s ability to explore and develop our natural resources.”
Back in 2017, Alaska’s team got a rule in a tax law saying the government had to sell two lease deals by 2024.
People against digging for oil were like, “Please get rid of that 2017 rule and keep our shores safe.”
“It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of today’s announcements for Arctic conservation,” Jamie Williams from the Wilderness Society cheered, “Once again, the Arctic Refuge is free of oil leases. Our climate is a bit safer and there is renewed hope for permanently protecting one of the last great wild landscapes in America.”
Alaska’s Republican Senator, Dan Sullivan, saw this as another “Biden’s picking on Alaska” move.
Two other deals from January 2021 were dropped because of legal back-and-forths.
After becoming president, Biden wanted a break on the leasing thing and asked Haaland to double-check it. She ordered another look in 2021 because the old program had some mistakes. A new report came out Wednesday.
The Alaska Industrial Development, who got seven deals in 2021, wasn’t pleased and sued. A judge, however, felt the pause for a new look was fair.
These lease deals were like backup plans if big oil firms stayed away. And they did, especially after some big banks said, “No cash for Arctic oil.”
Bernadette Demientieff, a head honcho for the Gwich’in group, gave the administration a thumbs-up but added, “We know that our sacred land is only temporarily safe from oil and gas development,” she said. “We urge the administration and our leaders in Congress to repeal the oil and gas program and permanently protect the Arctic Refuge.”