Biden administration delays release of new Arctic Refuge drilling environmental review

The draft review will now be delayed until the second quarter of next year, Justice Department lawyers said in a filing this week.

By Nathaniel Herz, Alaska Beacon - December 2, 2022
The Canning River flows through the coastal plain in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Katrina Liebich / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The Biden administration has delayed by several months the release of a new environmental review of oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The review, known as a “draft supplemental environmental impact statement,” was originally set for release by the end of November. All oil development work in the refuge is effectively stalled until the new review process concludes.

The report’s release will now be delayed until the second quarter of next year. That’s according to status reports filed late Wednesday by U.S. Department of Justice attorneys with the federal court handling three separate lawsuits over the refuge leasing program.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of the Interior, which is overseeing the leasing program, declined to comment further.

The Arctic Refuge drilling program was a contentious piece of the Trump administration’s energy agenda, following Congress’ vote to open the area to drilling as part of the 2017 tax reform package.

Conservation groups, tribes and anti-drilling U.S. states each filed lawsuits to challenge the administration’s oil leasing process and environmental reviews.

Following an auction in the final days of Trump’s term, the Biden administration suspended the active leases in the refuge. Then, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland announced the new review process, saying she found “multiple legal deficiencies” in the leasing program, including insufficient environmental analysis.

The two private companies that submitted winning bids in the Trump administration’s 2021 sale have already canceled their leases. Just one leaseholder remains, the state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority.

The 2017 tax reform package requires the federal government to hold a second lease sale by 2024.

This piece was first published in Northern Journal, a newsletter published by journalist Nathaniel Herz, and subsequently published at Alaska Beacon. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license. Subscribe to the North Journal at this link.

This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Today and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

Disclaimer: The sole responsibility for any content supported by the European Media and Information Fund lies with the author(s) and it may not necessarily reflect the positions of the EMIF and the Fund Partners, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and the European University Institute.