Trump announces a January drilling lease date for the Arctic Refuge

Danielle Brigida/USFWS

Update: On January 6, 2021, the administration officially opened leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Thanks in part to major public pressure, only three bidders took part—a major setback for the administration’s campaign to drill within the refuge.


The Trump administration’s frantic efforts to bring oil drilling to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska have reached a new low, with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announcing that a lease sale would take place in early January—with enormous consequences for the refuge, and the people and wildlife who depend on it.

The administration’s approach to the Arctic refuge has been a shambles from the very beginning. Through an unrelated tax bill in 2017, Congress gave Trump permission to consider lease sales in the refuge, reversing a 40-year-old drilling ban. The exuberant administration initially projected the first lease sale to occur in 2019, but accidentally did a favor to the country by failing to advance the process. Perhaps the delay was related to the pandemic, perhaps it was mere incompetence, or maybe it was overconfidence that the Trump administration would last beyond 2020.

For everyone except, apparently, Donald Trump himself, that confidence bubble burst sometime in early November. With the administration now in its death throes, the BLM started scrambling. It hastily launched the “call for nominations,” the process by which oil companies tell the government which tracts of land they would like to drill. And then, before the call for nominations even ended, it scheduled a lease sale.

What’s at stake? The health of polar bear and caribou populations, as well as the rights of Indigenous peoples whose traditional livelihoods are threatened by the drilling and destruction the lease sale would bring to this unique part of the world.

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