Trump administration begins last-minute leasing process for arctic drilling


Washington (CNN)The Trump administration on Monday started a leasing process for oil and gas drilling sites off the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, something environmental groups feel is a potential last-minute giveaway to the energy industry before the Biden administration takes over.

It is unclear if the Bureau of Land Management, which organizes the auction and leasing, would be able to complete the process in the two remaining months of the Trump administration. But it may allow the Trump administration to leave its thumbprint on the process. In previous years under Trump administration management, the leasing process in Alaska has taken between four and nine months.

The agency on Monday asked drillers to “describe the tract(s) you are nominating for leasing or providing comments on” in ANWR’s Coastal Plain, located on the state’s north slope.

After a 30-day window for submissions, the officials will schedule a sale date for the lease, the Bureau of Land Management said Monday.

    The coastal plain is both a sensitive environmental area and “highly prospective for oil and gas resources,” according to the Bureau of Land Management.

    Earthjustice, an environmental group that is one of several groups and states suing the Trump administration over its handling of the refuge, called it a “midnight effort to sell off irreplaceable lands in the refuge before a new day dawns.” The group called the coastal plain “the biological heart of the Refuge, an irreplaceable landscape with global ecological significance.”

    The coastal plain is nearly 1.6 million acres of the 19.3-million-acre ANWR. The administration announced details in August of its program to lease drilling sites there.

      A few months earlier, the administration rolled out a plan that would allow for drilling leases in more of the National Petroleum Reserve, a separate 23 million acre plot also on Alaska’s North Slope.

      The Bureau of Land Management has said it is required by the 2017 federal tax law to conduct two leases in the ANWR coastal plain area by 2024. The Bureau of Land Management has said the first lease will take place in the next year and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in August the sale may take place before the end of 2020.

      CNN’s Chandelis Duster contributed to this report.