Trump administration pushes to sell Alaska oil leases before Biden inauguration

A 2001 shows the coastal plain within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The Trump Administration will take key steps to finalise a sale of oil drilling leases in the sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska just before Democrat Joseph Biden, who opposes drilling there, becomes president, a government spokeswoman said on Friday (Nov 13).

The White House will be sending out a call for nominations in coming days, according to a spokeswoman for the US Bureau of Land Management in Anchorage, Alaska.

The call is a request to energy companies on what specific land areas should be offered for sale.

That would start the clock on a 60-day period before sales could take place in ANWR, where drilling had been banned for decades before a Republican-led tax legislation signed in 2017 removed that ban.

Biden opposes drilling in ANWR, while lawmakers in Alaska have long pushed to open up the ecologically sensitive area for oil and gas exploration.

"Development in ANWR is long overdue and will create good-paying jobs and provide a new revenue stream for the state - which is why a majority of Alaskans support it," said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice-president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group.

Following a 30-day period after the call for nominations, the government would have to issue a notice for an impending sale of leases.

Thirty days after that, the sale would take place, just before Biden's inauguration on Jan 20.

Alaska produces roughly 500,000 barrels per day of crude oil, far below its peak of two million bpd in the late 1980s.

"This lease sale is one more box the Trump administration is trying to check off for its oil industry allies before vacating the White House in January," said Adam Kolton, executive director at the Alaska Wilderness League, which opposes drilling in ANWR.

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US President Donald Trump's administration on Monday issued a request to energy companies to identify what specific land areas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be offered for sale, according to a government document.

Bloomberg reported the news earlier on Friday.

The White House finalised a plan to allow drilling earlier this year. The 7.7 million hectare refuge is home to Native tribes and wildlife populations including caribou and polar bears.

In recent months, several big US banks have said they would not finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region.

"This administration has consistently ignored our voices and dismissed our concerns. Our food security, our land and our way of life is on the verge of being destroyed," said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee.

The Gwich'in tribe lives in scattered villages in the reserve and across the national border in Canada.

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