Alaska agency commits to more spending on Arctic refuge oil plans

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority approved about $3.6 million in second-year lease costs.

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A snowy owl sits on tundra in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Lisa Hupp / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

ANCHORAGE — The Alaska state agency that holds oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has committed to spending more money to develop those tracts, even though prospects are dim for any oil activities there in the near future.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state-owned development agency, on Wednesday approved continued spending on ANWR oil development, including an estimated $3.6 million in second-year lease costs on top of $12.8 million it spent this year acquiring the leases.

The spending commitment comes as the Biden administration is reconsidering the environmental studies that the Trump administration used to prepare the ANWR lease sale.

[Biden administration suspends oil leases in Alaska’s Arctic refuge]

The Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday released a scoping report that provides a preliminary assessment of subjects to be examined in a renewed environmental impact study. That new study was ordered by Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, who said the previous pre-leasing studies conducted by the Trump administration were flawed.

The scoping report is intended to identify issues including legal deficiencies in the Trump administration’s environmental impact statement, as well as subjects that should be covered in the new supplemental environmental impact statement launched by Haaland.

Comments on the report alleged shortcomings in the Trump administration’s review, including treatment of climate change concerns, protections for wildlife and the natural landscape that were deemed inadequate and a failure to offer a full range of alternatives.

The supplemental environmental statement is expected to be completed in 2023, according to the BLM.

By then, the ANWR oil program may no longer exist. The Build Back Better infrastructure bill that passed the U.S. House on Nov. 19 and is pending in the Senate includes a provision to abolish the program entirely.

Additional reporting by David Gaffen.