U.S.A. approve oil production in nature reserve | Polarjournal
Three polar bears are searching for food along the coast of the Beaufort Sea within the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo: (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

On August 17, 2020, the Trump administration completed a plan to authorize oil and gas drilling in parts of Alaska’s Arctic National Nature Reserve and determined where drilling is permitted along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. This sets the course for issuing decades of drilling rights in the pristine wilderness prior to a possible change in the U.S. leadership.

An aircraft flies over caribou in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeastern Alaska. (Photo: (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The reserve is home to wildlife populations, including caribou and polar bears and many other species and has been closed to drilling for decades. Significant oil and gas reserves are suspected in the area. Controversy about possible oil and gas production has been going on for decades. But a tax law passed by the Republicans in 2017 opened the area for production. This is an important pillar of U.S. President Donald Trump’s energy agenda to expand the production of fossil fuels.

The industry’s interest in ANWR is unclear, and several major U.S. banks have recently stated that they will not finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region. (Photo: U.S. Geological Survey)

Environmentalists plan to file a lawsuit

Environmentalists and democratic legislators have long fought to prevent the pristine area from developing oil rigs, pipelines and roads. Green groups described this as particularly unjustified at a time of falling oil prices.

Environmentalists immediately announced resistance to drilling in the region. “Our climate is in crisis, oil prices have plummeted and large banks everywhere are withdrawing from financing such projects in the Arctic,” said Adam Kolton of the Alaska Wilderness League.

“The Trump government continues its race to sell out the last great wilderness of our nation, putting indigenous people, flora and fauna at unpredictable risk,” Kolton said. He announced that he would go to court, call Congress and put pressure on oil companies to prevent drilling.

Adam Kolton says that there must be a balance when it comes to exploiting Alaska’s natural resources. (Photo: Alaska Wilderness League)

Financing involves risks

According to the government’s plan, the mining rights are to be auctioned off. The Ministry of the Interior could carry out a sale of drilling licenses by the end of the year, said Interior Minister David Bernhardt during a telephone conference. He expects that first drilling licenses could be auctioned off by the end of the year, he told the Wall Street Journal.

Asked how the low oil price could affect a license sale, Bernhardt said that potential investors would not focus on the spot price of energy when considering long-term projects.

Industry interest is unclear and several major U.S. banks have recently stated that they will not finance any oil and gas projects in the Arctic region. The area has only been tested once for its potential to produce fossil fuels. Bernhardt said that companies would submit bids for leases despite the lack of seismic testing, which is a precursor to drilling.

Heiner Kubny, Polarjournal

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