Biden Deals Another Blow to Oil and Gas Industry, Suspends Leases in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge


It’s like the old Obamacare line, although President Joe Biden means it this time: If you like your high gas prices, you can keep your high gas prices. And then some.

Apparently unfazed by a dramatic climb in the national average price of gas — one which data from the Energy Information Administration shows began long before the Colonial Pipeline had to shut down due to a cyberattack in early May — the Biden administration suspended oil and gas leases inside the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, including a small number sold during the final weeks of the Trump administration.

According to The Washington Post, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the Trump administration’s lease sales contained “multiple legal deficiencies” including “insufficient analysis” of the environmental impacts.

The sales on those leases had been wildly disappointing. Allowing drilling in ANWR had long been a policy goal of conservatives, something the Trump administration and congressional Republicans finally achieved by including it in their 2017 tax reform package. However, the auction of leases came as gas prices and demand were at record lows because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a Washington Examiner report in January, the state of Alaska stepped in and was a bidder of last resort on two of the 11 tracts that sold; only $14 million was generated from the initial sale.

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The Republican tax cut bill was expected to open up more of a 1.56 million-acre portion of the 19 million-acre ANWR for additional sale before 2024, but that’s effectively been canceled by the Biden administration. Billions of barrels of oil are projected to be under that swath of land — and will, for the foreseeable future, remain there.

“President Biden is grateful for the prompt action by the Department of the Interior to suspend all leasing pending a review of decisions made in the last administration’s final days that could have changed the character of this special place forever,” said White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy in a Tuesday statement, the Washington Examiner reported Tuesday.

Suspending the trivial of leases the Trump administration was able to sell isn’t going to make too much of a difference for anyone — but oh, what a difference a couple of months makes!

Again, there are those gas prices — not necessarily the result of the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack and not likely to go down anytime soon, given the administration’s energy policies and the increased demand for oil as the pandemic winds down.

Should we allow drilling in ANWR?

Those prices have been part of a huge uptick in U.S. inflation; combined with an April jobs report that didn’t have anchors on CNBC playing hip-hop remakes of “Happy Days are Here Again,” this raises the possibility of Carter-era stagflation rearing its ugly head early in Biden’s term. Ensuring gas prices stay high is one way to keep that going, no matter how hard the Biden administration keeps on pushing electric vehicles.

What we’ve known about the oil fields under ANWR hasn’t changed much since conservative writer Jonah Goldberg visited the area for National Review in 2001.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is way over on the other side of Alaska, past several mountain ranges. ANWR is 19.6 million acres, about the size of South Carolina. And it’s beautiful. Well, most of it is. But more about that in a moment,” he wrote.

“On the very northern cusp of ANWR is what is commonly called the coastal plain, a tract of flat tundra largely indistinguishable from other spots along the coast and throughout the region. This comprises about 8 percent of the refuge — but an even smaller fraction of its pretty scenery. Some of this area is already off-limits to oil exploration, permanently. Nonetheless, the U.S. Geological Survey — seconded by industry experts — believes there could be untold billions of barrels of oil in the swath still legally available,” he continued.

“The oil industry says it would need to use only 2,000 acres — an area no bigger than Dulles Airport, outside D.C. — to get that oil. This footprint would be 50 times smaller than the Montana ranch owned by Ted Turner, who helps bankroll efforts to keep ANWR off-limits.”

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And as Joel B. Pollak pointed out in a Tuesday piece at Breitbart, ice road trucking and directional drilling mean the footprint is smaller than ever.

Still, there are two arguments made against the development of ANWR ad nauseam. The first is that the coastal plain of ANWR, as The Washington Post reported, is “home to hundreds of thousands of migrating caribou and waterfowl as well as the southern Beaufort Sea’s remaining polar bears.”

The other is that the indigenous Alaskan Gwich’in tribe opposes oil and gas development in the area.

The small footprint made by today’s drilling technologies, however, means wildlife is unlikely to be significantly affected. In a 2019 opinion piece for the Washington Examiner, William F. Shughart II — a Utah State University professor and research director of the libertarian Independent Institute — noted the same environmentalist concerns, particularly regarding migratory caribou, have existed since before drilling operations started on Alaska’s North Slope in the 1970s, more than 40 years ago.

“Before oil development began on the North Slope, conservationists warned that exploration, drilling, and building the 800-mile pipeline would irreparably harm the Porcupine caribou herd and cause serious environmental damage to the region’s permafrost,” Shughart wrote. “In the four decades since the pipeline was completed, however, it has safely carried more than 17 billion barrels of oil to the port of Valdez in southern Alaska, providing important lessons for the neighboring ANWR region.”

“The upshot is that subsurface drilling on the North Slope has increased by 4,000 percent since the 1970s, during which time the Porcupine caribou herd has expanded more than sevenfold.”

As Pollack noted in his Breitbart piece, the Gwich’in tribe hunts the Porcupine caribou, which may be part of its concern. The Gwich’in also don’t reap any of the financial benefits from ANWR oil and gas leases, Pollack wrote.

(That usually matters, a lot.)

Another local indigenous tribe, the Iñupiat, supports ANWR development — and, as it turns out, they’ll financially benefit from leases. They’re mentioned with considerably less frequency in media reports about ANWR drilling, as you might not be surprised to find out.

The truth is that ANWR (usually pronounced as “an-war”) is totemic for the left; it’s an initialism that conjures up memories of battles fought with conservatives and oil companies many times over many decades. Thus, it’s totemic for the Biden administration.

The White House isn’t completely clueless on the impact of shutting down controversial drilling projects. Consider that, according to The New York Times, the administration is currently in court defending the Willow project, another Trump-approved oil-drilling project along Alaska’s north coast that environmentalists are bitterly fighting.

But ANWR is symbolic.

There are going to be a lot more ANWRs and Keystone XLs than there will be Willow projects over the next few years — which is all part of an administration so antipathetic toward sensible energy policy it aims to cut carbon emissions by half by 2030.

That’ll hit your wallet in more ways than one, particularly when it comes to the pump.

In other words, if you like gas above $3  a gallon, you can keep gas above $3 a gallon.

In fact, you may be wishing to get these days back in the not-too-distant future.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture