Trump administration finalizes oil drilling plan in Alaska wildlife refuge

The Trump administration 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 U.S. leadership.

Presidential hopeful Joe Biden and green groups criticized the move as a giveaway to Big Oil that would harm the Arctic’s unique ecosystem and native people.

The Interior Department could hold a sale of oil and gas leases in ANWR by the end of the year, Secretary David Bernhardt said.

A Republican-passed tax bill in 2017 opened the area to oil and gas leasing, a key pillar of U.S. President Donald Trump’s agenda to expand fossil fuel production. However, lease sales in the state have been weak for most of the last decade, and statewide production has dropped steadily for the past 30 years.

If found, oil production could begin in ANWR in about eight years, Bernhardt said, with activity lasting about 50 years.

The 19 million acre refuge is home to wildlife populations including Porcupine caribou and polar bears and has been off-limits to drilling for decades. In recent months, several big U.S. banks have said recently they will not finance oil and gas projects in the Arctic region.

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