The Trump administration on Monday finalized a plan to allow oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, putting it on track to issue decades-long leases in the pristine wilderness area before a potential change in US leadership.
The 19 million acre (7.7 million hectares) refuge is home to wildlife populations including Porcupine caribou and polar bears and has been off-limits to drilling for decades.
But a Republican-passed tax bill in 2017 opened the area to oil and gas leasing, a key pillar of US President Donald Trump’s energy agenda to expand fossil fuel production on public lands.
The Interior Department could hold a sale of oil and gas leases in ANWR by the end of the year, Secretary David Bernhardt said on a conference call with reporters.
“I’m not really driven by the political dynamics” of the Nov 3 presidential election, he said.
Polls show Trump is trailing challenger Joe Biden, a Democrat.
If found, oil production could begin in ANWR in about eight years, Bernhardt said, with activity lasting about 50 years.
Environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers have long fought to block the pristine area from development of oil rigs, pipelines and roads. Green groups said it was particularly unjustified at a time of slumping oil prices.