The Biden administration has reversed plans approved by previous president Donald Trump to allow companies to drill for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic national wildlife refuge, which is home to polar bears and caribou.
What is Happening?
- The decision to suspend the licenses in the Arctic wildlife refuge follows Biden’s temporary moratorium on oil and gas lease activities.
- The Arctic wildlife refuge is considered sacred by the indigenous Gwich’in communities and is home to polar bears, caribou, snowy owls and other wildlife, including migrating birds from six continents.
- Republicans have been trying to open up the oil-rich refuge for decades. However, the first sale of the lease areas in the refuge earlier this year failed to attract interest from the oil industry, possibly making the decision to suspend the licenses easier for the Biden administration. The first sale of drilling rights raised less than USD$15 million from two small oil drillers and failed to attract interest from companies including ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips.
Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, hailed suspension of the leasing programme, saying, “Suspending these leases is a step in the right direction, and we commend the Biden administration for committing to a new programme analysis that prioritises sound science and adequate tribal consultation.”
Miller called for the permanent cancellation of the leases and repeal of the 2017 law mandating drilling in the refuge’s coastal plain.
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- However, in a separate project, the US Department of Justice determined that the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska’s north slope was “reasonable and consistent” with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.
- The decision to green light the Willow project, headed by oil company Conoco-Phillips, was heavily criticised by climate campaigners. It also raised concern that the Biden administration is not willing to stand up to oil giants.
- The Arctic is warming up at almost twice the rate of the rest of the planet, which is rapidly increasing the rate of sea ice loss. Since the 1980s, the volume of Arctic sea ice has decreased by 75%, and the region could experience ice-free summers by 2050, if not earlier.
Featured image by: Flickr