Jan 5, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Judge allows contested Arctic lease sale to proceed

Alaska, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, ANWR, the Narrows from Schrader to Peters Lake.

The Narrows from Schrader to Peters Lake in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by: Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A federal judge on Tuesday denied a bid to thwart the Interior Department's plan to sell oil drilling leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Why it matters: District court judge Sharon Gleason's ruling clears the way for the Interior Department to unseal bids tomorrow for drilling rights in the region.

  • The judge denied a motion from environmentalists and Native Alaskans for a preliminary injunction.

What they're saying: "Plaintiffs may be correct that, over time, they may be significantly injured as a result of the planned lease sales on the Coastal Plain," Gleason wrote.

  • "But these future and cumulative potential effects do not demonstrate the irreparable harm necessary for preliminary injunctive relief at this time," the ruling adds.

Yes, but: The ruling is just one step in legal battles ongoing and expected over development in the region — an area subject to a decades-long battle between drilling advocates and environmentalists.

  • Drilling proponents say the region can be tapped with manageable disruption. But environmentalists say it's impossible without harming the ecosystem that's home to caribou, polar bears and other species

Where it stands: Wednesday's unsealing of bids will reveal the extent of industry interest in the region.

  • The refuge may hold huge oil deposits. But companies face strained budgets, cloudy future demand and prices, and activist pressure to keep clear.

The big picture: The Trump administration, on the cusp of President-elect Joe Biden taking office, is selling leases under a GOP-crafted 2017 law that opened the refuge for oil drilling.

  • But there are nonetheless administrative and legal levers that Biden — whose platform calls for "permanently protecting" the region — can pull to try and stymie the years-long development process.

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


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