The Trump administration on Thursday said it would issue a sale notice for oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) next week, putting it on track to hold a drilling auction.
The move is the latest step toward pulling off the first ever sale of oil and gas leases in a pristine area of the Arctic before Biden, a Democrat who opposes energy development there, becomes president on Jan. 20.
The sale notice will be published on Monday, setting up a sale to be held on Jan. 6 via video livestream, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said in a statement.
Trump’s Republican administration issued a request to energy companies to identify what specific areas in the refuge should be offered for sale. The companies have 30 days to respond, and a sale notice was not expected to be issued until the end of that period.
“The Trump Administration is hell-bent on selling off the Arctic Refuge on its way out the door, rules be damned,” Matt Lee-Ashley, a senior fellow at the liberal think tank Center for American Progress, said in an emailed statement.
Drilling had been banned in the refuge for decades before Republican-led tax legislation signed in 2017 removed that ban. Lawmakers in Alaska have long pushed to open up the area to oil and gas exploration.
The coastal plain covers about 1.6 million acres, an area roughly the size of Delaware, and makes up about 8% of the vast refuge. It’s home to polar bears, caribou and other wildlife. It’s also thought to hold billions of barrels of oil.