The Bureau of Land Management has eliminated close to 475,000 acres of federal land from its upcoming oil and gas lease sale in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
BLM’s announcement Friday evening shrinks by about 30% the acreage companies can buy drilling rights to.
The agency started accepting bids for the remaining roughly 1.1 million acres on Monday and plans to hold the first-ever lease sale for the coastal plain on Jan. 6.
The 10 tracts removed from the sale are in the southeastern corner of the coastal plain.
BLM says it decided to cut that land from the sale based on comments it got during a 30-day call for nominations period that ended last Thursday, including concerns about caribou, polar bear and bird habitat.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the removed land does not have a high potential for oil.
“Most of the tracts removed from the sale are gas prone and have negligible oil potential,” David Houseknecht, USGS senior research geologist, said in an email.
Those opposed to the lease sale have launched criticism at the government’s timeline.
More than a dozen groups, including the Gwich’in Steering Committee, are trying to block the sale and the government’s approval of any seismic work in the coastal plain. They’ve filed motions for a preliminary injunction, and a federal judge says she’ll make a ruling on the requests by Jan. 6.
The groups argue that the government’s plan to open the coastal plain to drilling is rushed and flawed. They say development in the area will cause irreparable harm to wildlife, the tundra and the climate.
But those who support the sale argue it’s good for the economy, jobs and will create more revenue for the state and federal government.
BLM says it’s accepting sealed bids for the oil and gas leases until Dec. 31. The government plans to open those bids on Jan. 6 and will stream the event online.
President-elect Joe Biden will take office two weeks later, and says he opposes drilling in the refuge.