WASHINGTON—The Trump administration is taking the final steps to secure oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, starting a leasing process to strike deals with drillers to operate in the pristine, 19-million-acre wilderness before Democratic President-elect Joe Biden can stop it.
Mr. Biden has vowed to block plans for oil drilling in this northwest corner of Alaska. Congress passed a mandate to lease oil rights in part of the refuge in its tax overhaul in 2017—when Republican majorities controlled both the House and Senate. Mr. Trump’s Interior Department has said it expects a lease sale by January. Mr. Biden is slated to be inaugurated on Jan. 20.
The department’s Bureau of Land Management is now issuing a “call for nominations” allowing oil companies to say where in the refuge they want to operate. The notice is scheduled to publish Tuesday in the Federal Register, and potential bidders will have 30 days to make their nominations. Then the bureau can move on to the sale.
The law limits oil companies to tapping reserves under 1.5 million acres in the refuge’s coastal plain. Further restrictions are to limit surface disturbance there to 350,000 acres in the current drilling program. The Interior Department’s assessment said last year that the drilling plans would have a negligible environmental impact, a finding environmental groups disputed.
“This call for nominations brings us one step closer to holding an historic first Coastal Plain lease sale, satisfying the directive of Congress…and advancing this administration’s policy of energy independence,” Chad Padgett, the bureau’s Alaska state director, said Monday.