Arctic oil drilling plan coming soon, U.S. interior chief says

Jennifer A. Dluohy February 28, 2020

WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) --The Trump administration is moving to sell drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Saturday.

“We are about to finalize a leasing plan for that,” Bernhardt said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland, without providing a more specific timetable.

His declaration comes amid delays in standing up a sale -- originally expected in December -- and concerns that low oil prices and the decision by some banks to stop lending to Arctic oil projects could suppress interest in the auction.

The Interior Department completed a required environmental study of Arctic refuge drilling last year. It’s still developing a “record of decision” to formally trigger an auction, as well as final stipulations to guide development on any leases sold there.

Congress ended a decades-long moratorium of oil drilling in the 1.56-million-acre coastal plain in 2017, when it ordered lease sales as a way to raise money that could offset tax cuts. That so-called 1002 area is thought to contain billions of barrels of oil.

Concerns about risks to polar bears and the timeline for work have forestalled efforts to conduct geological surveys to help pinpoint potential oil and gas reserves, as well as arm energy companies with new information to inform their bidding. Previous geological surveys of the region are decades old.

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