The Trump administration's unprecedented auction of Arctic drilling rights Wednesday netted just $14.4 million from three bidders, with major oil companies steering clear of the sale. Frank Murkowski, recently pushed the state to bid, citing the lack of industry interest.
Chad Padgett, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Alaska state director, defended the review process Wednesday as rigorous and disputed critics' claims that the sale had been rushed.
During oral arguments, Earthjustice attorneys disagreed, pointing out that approval of lease sales will give rise to "bureaucratic momentum" toward continued approvals for exploration, including on-the-ground activities like seismic testing and aircraft overflights, which threaten the solitude protected in federal laws that set aside the Arctic Refuge for the use of wildlife and public enjoyment.
In addition to the planned lease sale in the refuge's coastal plain, the Trump administration also has moved to open an additional 10,937 square miles (28,326 square kilometers) for oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
"Companies knew they would face incredible opposition to drilling, they would struggle to find banks to loan them money", he added.
"Alaskans have waited two generations for this moment; I stand with them in support of this day", he said.
The fight over opening to development the refuge's coastal plain goes back decades for a state that has had its economic fortunes long tied to oil.
Gleason has previously ruled against Trump administration efforts, including an attempt to open vast areas of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans to oil and gas leasing and a land trade that would have allowed construction of a road through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge.
Several major USA banks have also said they will not finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic.
In this undated photo, an airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. But the Trump administration is expected to rush to issue the leases formally before the president leaves office in two weeks.
At the time, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that total ANWR lease sales would generate $1.82 billion United States in total revenue.
The Bureau of Land Management on Monday released its plan for the 23 million acres on the western North Slope of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority was the sole bidder on at least eight of the 12 tracts. With tracts ranging in size from 23,446 to 59,410 acres (9,488 to 24,042 hectares), the smallest possible winning bid is $586,150.
"It is my hope that if and when commercial quantities of oil are discovered on any of these leases, that this action will make history for generations to come", yielding well-paying jobs, royalty payments and new sources of crude, said Deputy Interior Secretary Kate MacGregor. We're watching to see if anyone bids on the leases.