The Trump administration on Monday took another step to opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling for oil and gas, potentially fulfilling a decades-long dream for Republicans.
But opposing groups have promised to fight opening up the coast plain of the refuge, a 1.56-million acre swath of land along Alaska’s northern Beaufort Sea coast, home to polar bears, caribous and other wildlife, after the Department of the Interior approved an oil and gas leasing program.
Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt signed the Record of Decision, which will determine a program for where oil and gas leasing will take place in the refuge’s coastal plain.
”The establishment of this program marks a new chapter in American energy independence,” Bernhardt said during a conference call with reporters.
“Years of inaction have given away to an informed and determined plan to responsibly tap ANWR’s energy potential for the American people for generations to come,” he said.
President Trump insisted Congress include a mandate providing for leasing in the refuge in a 2017 tax bill.
Over the last four decades, Republicans have attempted to open the refuge to drilling. President Bill Clinton vetoed a Republican bill to allow drilling in 1995, and Democrats blocked a similar plan 10 years later.
The Interior’s Bureau of Land Management in December 2018 concluded drilling could be conducted within the coastal plain area without harming wildlife.
“Today’s announcement marks a milestone in Alaska’s forty-year journey to responsibly develop our state and our nation’s new energy frontier,” Gov. Mike Dunleavy said in a statement.
The Republican governor called Monday’s decision “a definitive step in the right direction to developing this area’s energy potential,” which he estimated at 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil reserves.