The much-anticipated, much-litigated oil lease sale for the coastal plains of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge generated little interest and no interest from major oil companies in what Alaska Public Media termed “something of a bust.”
In fact, state-owned Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority was the only bidder on nine leases after its board—in a legally contested maneuver last week—approved spending up to $20 million on the sale. According to APM, two small speculator companies each placed one bid each and about half of the areas drew no bids at all.
The sale is one of the final actions of the Trump administration and was made possible by the 2017 tax act passed by Congress. The results of the bid were announced at 10 a.m. Alaska time, just as a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and took over everyone’s attention.
The muted interest in the sale has been chalked up to ongoing uncertainty about oil demand, cooling interest in Arctic oil production from major banks, daunting legal challenges and existing difficulty with developing the remote ANWR region.
AIDEA’s unusual move to enter bids on the land is intended to hold onto drilling rights for the region in case new interest ever crops up for the region. According to a state news release, the state spent about $12 million on the leases.
A judge rejected an effort to put a halt to the sale, finding that allowing the oil lease sale to go ahead wouldn’t result in irreparable harm to the coastal plain or to the litigants. The federal government and others argued earlier this week that the potential harm raised by environmental and tribal groups would be caused by later actions and not the mere leasing of the land.
“There is no commitment to any of these activities that plaintiffs fear in the mere issuance of leases,” said Federal attorney Paul Turcke. “It’s not a basis for any kind of judicial intervention. … Leases can issue and never have any actual effect on the environment.”
Groups opposing the sale released a joint statement bashing the sale, noting that “the lease sale generate less than 1% of the Tax Act’s projected $1.8 billion in revenues. … This disgraceful commodification of sacred and public lands furthers an exploitative agenda that trades Indigenous cultural values and future generations’ health and wellbeing into pieces of real estate solid in a political yard sale.
“This administration’s insistence on holding this lease sale in the final weeks of its term is a desperate act of violence toward Indigenous ways of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. “The Gwich’in Nation has fought this process every step of the way. No amount of money is worth more than our way of life, and we will continue to stand up against anyone who attempts to harm the calving grounds, as our ancestors did for generations before us. We have the strength of generations of love and prayer supporting us, and that is far stronger this administration’s greed. We will not back down.”