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Biden administration reverses Alaska drilling program

2 years 9 months 13 hours ago Wednesday, June 02 2021 Jun 2, 2021 June 02, 2021 5:20 AM June 02, 2021 in News
Source: BBC News

Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been described as the last true arctic wilderness in North America, and President Joe Biden is on track to reverse the former administration's 2020 decision to open the region to oil and gas drilling.

According to BBC News, the Biden White House is aiming to suspend oil and gas leases in ANWR pending an environmental review.

Located in Alaska's far northeastern corner, the region is essentially acres upon acres of untouched arctic habitat.

Believed to contain vast amounts of oil, in 1960, part of the region was designated a protected area. In 1980, the amount of protected area was expanded and the region received its official name, "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," or ANWR. 

White House National Climate Advisor, Gina McCarthy explained why the Biden administration is aiming to keep the region protected from oil and gas drilling, saying that Biden "believes America's national treasures are cultural and economic cornerstones of our country."

McCarthy went on to say, "He is grateful for the prompt action by the Department of the Interior to suspend all leasing pending a review of decisions made in the last administration's final days that could have changed the character of this special place forever."

The former administration's choice to sell oil leases in ANWR did not appear to meet with the desired results. 

The BBC notes that the first sale of oil leases in the region's coastal plain received minimal interest from the oil and gas industry as a number of companies were more interested in spending money on renewable energy due to a significant slump in oil prices. 

In fact, several large US banks said they would not fund exploration in the area, the news outlet said.

In total, 11 tracts were auctioned off, covering just over 550,000 acres, according to the Washington Post newspaper and the sale raised less than $15 million, a number which did not reach the target the administration hoped for. 

ANWR's vast and oil-rich 19 million acres has been the subject of a decades-long dispute.

While some envision drilling for oil as a sure ticket to more money and jobs for the Alaskan people, others are concerned that drilling for oil will have a deadly impact on the area's rich wildlife and natural environment. 

Originally the home of the indigenous Gwich'in people, ANWR is considered a sacred site by the natives and Arctic tribal leaders have praised the current administration's decision to suspend drilling.

According to the BBC, Tonya Garnett, special projects coordinator for the Native Village of Venetie Tribal, touched on this in a recent statement, saying, "I want to thank President Biden and the Interior Department for recognizing the wrongs committed against our people by the last Administration, and for putting us on the right path forward." 

"This goes to show that, no matter the odds, the voices of our Tribes matter," Garnett added.

Others in the region also praised the Biden administration's decision.

Kristen Miller, acting executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, said suspending the leases was "a step in the right direction."

However, the President's recent decision was also highly criticized by some.

Republican senators Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski joined representative Don Young and Governor Mike Dunleavy in voicing their disapproval of Biden's decision.

"This action serves no purpose other than to obstruct Alaska's economy and put our energy security at risk," said Murkowski, who has represented Alaska in the Senate since 2002.

Dunleavy also said that the leases sold by the former administration "are valid and cannot be taken away by the federal government."

According to the BBC, oil revenues are crucial for Alaska, with every resident getting a check for around $1,600 every year from the state's permanent fund.

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