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Beaufort Sea in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo: Patrick Endres/Corbis Documentary via Getty Images

The Interior Department on Tuesday is publishing a formal solicitation for tracts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to lease for oil drilling.

Driving the news: The bureaucratic timelines — starting with a 30-day comment period — mean that an actual auction of drilling rights could occur just a few days before President-elect Biden's inauguration.

Why it matters: Completing a sale would create more facts on the ground and make it more difficult for Biden, who opposes drilling in the Alaskan preserve, to thwart the effort.

The big picture: Lease sales are required under a 2017 GOP-crafted bill that authorized leasing after a decadeslong battle over the region.

  • But as we've reported here, Biden has several levers he can pull to slow down the process, even though his efforts would be challenged in court.

What they're saying: A ClearView Energy Partners note points out that slowing things down — via steps like new climate reviews of permitting, to name just one — could effectively be a lasting win for opponents.

Between the lines: That has a lot to do with where things stand with oil markets. Per ClearView...

  • "[W]e would ... contend that 'slow' can function much like 'no' on a present-value basis, particularly during an era of low demand and high investor expectations for capital discipline."
  • "Thus, for the Biden Administration, a series of slow losses — and all the uncertainty that repeated slow-walking and court proceedings might create — could be tantamount to a win (big spenders have left the Arctic empty-handed in the past)."

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Nov 16, 2020 - Energy & Environment

The next step in Arctic refuge drilling fight

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The Interior Department will imminently take the next step toward selling drilling leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before President Trump leaves office, Bloomberg reports.

Driving the news: They report that as soon as today, Interior will issue a "call for nominations" for parcels to auction at a sale of drilling rights in 1.6 million acres of the refuge's coastal plain.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
58 mins ago - Economy & Business

New deals in the COVID economy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

COVID-19 is the macro horror of our lifetimes, and has destroyed or severely damaged countless businesses. But, like with most horribles, it also has created some opportunities.

Driving the news: Merck this morning announced an agreement to buy OncoImmune, a Maryland-based biotech that showed promising late-stage clinical results for a therapy that treats severe and critical coronavirus cases.

2 hours ago - Technology

Biden's openings for tech progress

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images 

Item No. 1 on President-elect Joe Biden's day-one tech agenda, controlling the flood of misinformation online, offers no fast fixes — but other tech issues facing the new administration hold out opportunities for quick action and concrete progress.

What to watch: Closing the digital divide will be a high priority, as the pandemic has exposed how many Americans still lack reliable in-home internet connections and the devices needed to work and learn remotely.