Biden Administration Bars Alaska Drilling

The prohibition prevents further fossil fuel extraction in 13 million acres of federal land

By Peter Melahn, Staff Writer

In an attempt to protect federal land from fossil fuel exploitation, the Biden administration announced last Wednesday that they would prevent fossil fuel drilling and cancel all remaining oil and gas leases in 13 million acres of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The prohibition bars further drilling in 10.6 million acres of land in the ANWR, or 40% of the National Petroleum Reserve, a federally protected area managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. An additional 2.4 million acres are also being subjected to strict safeguards imposed by new policies requiring the Bureau of Land Management to prove that any development would have minimal impact on wildlife. 

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The wildlife and landscape of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, located near Alaska’s North Slope, is receiving new protections due to the Biden administration’s decision to cancel future oil and gas leases.

In line with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1977, the decision preserves millions of acres of undeveloped land and habitats for species in Alaska, including migratory birds, caribou and polar bears. 

The ANWR and National Wildlife Refuge System’s goals include “conservation, management and, where appropriate, restoration of fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States.”

The Department of the Interior’s newly-composed regulation would cancel seven remaining oil and gas leases in the land that were authorized under former President Donald Trump. While the Department of Interior under President Joe Biden was initially willing to allow oil drilling to expand in the area, the recent move marks a change in strategy by the executive department.

The decision does not restrict the administration’s previous approval to allow oil corporation ConocoPhillips to pursue its $8 billion Willow oil drilling project in the same vicinity. 

The project is an expansion of drilling that plans to produce around 180,000 barrels of oil per day. Since the approval of this project, the administration has emphasized its efforts to reduce climate change. 

Dr. Rachel Behr, an expert on natural resource economics in the Williams College of Business, explained that the decision to cancel remaining leases does not come without trade-offs.

“Banning oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge means a few things: fewer environmental impacts from the drilling of oil, but also decreased supply of future oil reserves. The Alaskan economy is going to suffer a bit from this, from things like a loss of jobs to decreased state revenue,” Behr said.

While the decision is designed to further the conservation of the wildlife refuge, it is expected to have an array of economic and social effects as well. Not only is it anticipated that a large number of oil drilling workers will lose their jobs, but national oil and gas prices will likely inflate as well with more limited supplies in these products.

It is believed the refuge sits on top of over 10 billion barrels of oil that will no longer be accessible due to the recent decisions. 

Last month, the state of Alaska challenged the suspension of oil drilling by the federal government to conduct an analysis on the environmental effects of production. The challenge was blocked by a federal judge. 

The move by the Biden administration comes in the last year of Biden’s term. The ban is being hailed by environmental activists while being denounced by other groups, like the Alaskan development corporations that  seek to support sustainable economic growth for the state and Republican representatives in the state.

“Both parties are rational for pursuing their ends, and in this case, the government decided who ought to win out,” Behr said.: