Jan 4, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Company interest in drilling Alaska wildlife refuge to be revealed Jan. 6

Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios
Data: U.S. Energy Information Administration; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The Trump administration will unseal bids Wednesday for drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as it looks to kickstart the yearslong development process before Biden takes office.

Why it matters: The lease sale will help answer something of a mystery — how interested are companies in the refuge at this point?

  • There could be immense hydrocarbon deposits there, but development efforts will face intense legal battles.
  • And companies face strained budgets, cloudy future demand and prices, and activist pressure to keep clear.

The intrigue: Via Alaska Public Media, in late December the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) voted to authorize up to $20 million in spending on leases.

  • "The idea is that, if AIDEA wins the tracts, it could partner with companies to do the actual drilling," they report
  • "It’s a way for the state to make sure the land is set aside for oil development in case no one else bids on the leases."

The big picture: This week's lease sale is the latest but hardly the last phase of the decades-long battle over the Arctic preserve.

  • Lease sales are mandated under a late 2017 GOP-crafted law.
  • The refuge may contain huge oil deposits that proponents say can be tapped with manageable disruption.
  • But environmentalists oppose development, arguing it's impossible without harming and jeopardizing the ecosystem that's home to caribou, polar bears and other species.
  • Biden opposes drilling, and there's a bunch of bureaucratic and legal levers the new administration can pull.
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