Interior Department Suspends Oil and Gas Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

June 1, 2021 by Dan McCue
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in summer.

WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior on Tuesday canceled all oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge pending a new environmental review.

The sale of the leases was one of the final acts of the Trump administration, occurring on the same day as the siege on the U.S. Capitol by angry Trump supporters.

“Today marks an important step forward fulfilling President Biden’s promise to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,” said National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy.

“President Biden believes America’s national treasures are cultural and economic cornerstones of our country and 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,” she said.

Secretarial Order 3401 directs the department to initiate a comprehensive environmental analysis to review the potential impacts of the program and to address legal deficiencies in the current leasing program’s earlier environmental review.

The White House said the department is notifying lessees that it is suspending oil and gas leases in the Arctic Refuge, pending the review, to determine whether the leases should be reaffirmed, voided, or subject to additional mitigation measures.

Under the previous administration, the Bureau of Land Management established and began administering an oil and gas program in the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge. After the BLM prepared the “Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Environmental Impact Statement”  under National Environmental Policy Act, the BLM held a lease sale on Jan. 6, 2021, and subsequently issued 10-year leases on nine tracts covering more than 430,000 acres.

Immediately after his inauguration, President Biden issued Executive Order 13990, directing the Interior Department to review oil and gas activity in the Arctic Refuge.

After conducting the required review, the Department identified defects in the underlying Record of Decision supporting the leases, including the lack of analysis of a reasonable range of alternatives in the EIS conducted under NEPA.

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