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Biden administration cancels oil and gas leases on Alaska land

The US Department of the Interior announced on Wednesday that it would cancel seven oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Nature Preserve and at the same time safeguard more than half of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, both located on the North Slope of Alaska.

Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A) and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR) are home to a variety of wildlife threatened by the climate crisis, including caribou, polar bears and shorebirds.

The federally protected NPR-A includes 93 million hectares set aside to balance oil and gas development with the protection of sensitive lands used by a portion of the Alaska Native population.

Last March, President Joe Biden approved Project Willow, a multi-billion dollar plan for oil drilling there, which went against his campaign promise of “more drilling on federal lands, period.” final”.

Biden said he had no choice but to half-heartedly honor the deal, which was struck years before his presidency began, despite his administration downsizing it.

When Biden announced Project Willow was moving forward, he also unveiled unprecedented plans to give “maximum protection” to 52 million hectares of NPR-A. On Wednesday, he formalized these projects. About 40 million hectares will be closed to oil and gas drilling for the foreseeable future. But 7 million hectares can be leased for oil drilling under increased surveillance.

“We must do everything in our power to care for and protect this fragile ecosystem,” Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said at a press conference.

A day before Biden’s inauguration, the Trump administration brokered a deal with an Alaska state development agency for drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2021, the Biden administration placed a temporary moratorium on those leases, arguing that the sale was legally flawed and required an Interior review.

Biden authorized Haaland to cancel the sale if she found a reason to do so. Wednesday she did.

The reversal has frustrated several Alaskan politicians, mostly Republicans, who view Haaland’s decision as a stranglehold on the state’s economy. In 2017, a congressional delegation from Alaska was able to add language to federal tax legislation requiring the federal government to sell two leases by the end of 2024. The Biden administration has said it will comply with this law.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge holds spiritual significance to the Gwich’in, who are indigenous to the region.

Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in steering committee, praised Biden for canceling all seven outstanding leases, but said she was worried about the future of her people.

“(Our) sacred land is only temporarily safe from oil and gas development,” she said in a statement. “We urge the administration and our leaders in Congress to repeal the oil and gas program and permanently protect the Arctic refuge.”

Some information in this report comes from The Associated Press and Reuters.