WASHINGTON – President Biden may be forced to conduct a new oil drilling lease sale in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, despite his vow to reduce fossil fuel pollution and action this week to suspend Arctic drilling leases that the Trump has made in recent days -Administration.
A law passed by Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 requires the president to hold two lease sales in the refuge before the end of 2024. President Donald Trump held the first; Now legal experts say the Biden government could be prevented from making a second sale.
The 2017 bill was a great achievement for Mr Trump, who tried to permanently open millions of acres of public land for oil and gas drilling, including the Alaskan Refuge coastal plain, about 1.5 million acres along the Arctic Ocean that is believed to be that they overlay huge oil reserves. The sanctuary is one of the last pristine wilderness areas in the United States that is home to caribou, birds, and polar bears.
Until this law was passed, the fate of the Refuge depended on which political party controlled the White House and Congress. Republicans wanted to allow drilling, Democrats wanted to keep the area off-limits.
But the 2017 law, which mainly focused on revising the corporate income tax law, lifted a decade-long ban on oil production at the refuge and included the requirement of two auctions, the second of which had to take place within seven years of the law being passed, or by the end of December 2024.
That language was seen as a way to get anyone who was in the White House at the time – either Mr Trump or, it turned out, Mr Biden – to keep advancing oil development at the Refuge. Now Mr Biden, who has set the most ambitious climate change agenda of any presidents and wants to drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption and emissions, is legally on the hook to advance a plan that will allow more drilling in the Arctic.
“It’s a very clever strategy,” said Marcella Burke, an energy policy attorney who served at the Home Office during the Trump administration, adding the drilling lease requirements to the 2017 law. “It is impressive that Congress and the executive have been able to work together so effectively. This is a great achievement for any government that wants to legally bind another government. “
According to the law, “Biden will definitely need to sign another Arctic drilling lease,” said Patrick Parenteau, law professor at Vermont Law School.
Mr. Parenteau and other legal experts noted that the Biden government could find ways to delay or reduce the second auction of drilling leases. For example, while the law requires the Home Office to hold an auction, it doesn’t require the agency to actually award leases, he said.
“The Home Office could increase the eligibility requirements for bidders for the leases,” said Mr Parenteau. “The bidders would have to show that they can develop responsibly in this completely unique, pristine ecosystem with incredible development challenges.”
“If there is no one who qualifies, they could have reasons not to give a lease,” he said.
Ms. Burke, the former Trump-era Home Office official, scoffed at the idea.
“A fake lease sale denies the public their right to land,” she said. “If this administration wants to add a new bill to the 2017 tax bill that requires an environmental review before a hire purchase, it can go through Congress like Trump.”
A spokeswoman for the interior ministry declined to comment on the files on the agency’s plans.
However, some environmentalists agree that the only way to lift Mr Biden’s obligation to sell drilling leases in the Arctic is to return to Congress.
“The only way we can undo this from our point of view is through Congress,” said Leah Donahey, legislative director of the Alaska Wilderness League. “We’d like to see congressional action.”
Ms. Donahey said this could be done through draft law or as part of other legislation that would effectively override the mandate and ideally do away with the entire leasing program.
“We firmly believe that not only do they have to abolish the second sale, but they must also end the program,” she said.
Last month, the world’s leading energy agency warned that governments around the world must now stop approving fossil fuel projects if they are to prevent the pollution they cause from lowering the average global temperature above 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels Level drives. This is the threshold at which scientists say the earth will suffer irreversible damage.
The Trump administration’s actions in relation to the leasing program are the subject of four lawsuits filed by environmentalists, Alaskan groups, and some attorneys general.
The lawsuits are pending in federal district court in Alaska but have been on hold for several months while the Biden government reviews the program, said Brook Brisson, a senior attorney at Trustees for Alaska, a nonprofit public interest law firm that represents the groups.
In her order to suspend the leases, Home Secretary Deb Haaland noted that her department had identified “legal flaws” in the rental program.
But Ms. Brisson said that even if the lawsuits are successful, they only concern the past activities of the Trump administration. A legal victory would not nullify the 2017 law’s mandate to hold two separate rental auctions, she said, “just as it was conducted”.
The 2017 law requires that each lease sale be at least 400,000 acres of the coastal plain. It also required that “the areas with the highest potential for hydrocarbon discovery” be put up for sale.
However, understanding of the potential for oil production in the refuge is limited. A single exploratory well was drilled there decades ago and an investigation by the New York Times found it to be a disappointment. A seismic survey conducted in the 1980s provided limited information about potential oil reserves, and plans for a new, more detailed survey with improved technology in recent years have repeatedly derailed.
Against this background, the question arises of how much interest a second sale would generate, especially since the first was not very interested. The sale included 22 of 32 lots on offer, nearly 1.1 million acres in areas believed to have the greatest potential for oil production.
Still, bids were only received on 11 lots and ended up leasing only 9, totaling approximately 430,000 acres. All were on the west side of the Coastal Plain, closer to existing pipelines and other oil infrastructure on Alaska’s North Slope that would help reduce the cost of producing oil in the refuge.
There is little reason to believe that the unbidding properties or the other 10 that were not offered on the initial sale and that are further from areas believed to be overlying promising oil reserves are great Would be interested in a second sale.