US President Joe Biden has issued an executive order to halt plans for oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The order places “a temporary moratorium on all activities of the Federal Government relating to the implementation of the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program” and requires the Interior Department to conduct a fresh review.
The order also reinstated an Obama-era policy that had shut most federal offshore waters in the US Arctic and Northern Bering Sea to oil and gas exploration and restored the Northern Bering Sea Climate Resilience Area, reported ArcticToday.
Biden's move on Wednesday came just a day after the outgoing Trump administration finalised the transfers of leases from the first sale of acreage in the 19.6 million-acre ANWR.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) the previous day had finalised nine of 11 leases for oil exploration, issuing drilling leases covering more than 400,000 acres of the refuge after auction bids had been received on 6 January.
The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state agency, which was the sole bidder for most of the acreage, was issued seven leases.
The remaining two were issued to small independents Knik Arm Services and Regenerate Alaska, BLM said.
In a statement, BLM Alaska state director Chad Padgett said the leases issuance was “a hallmark step and a clear indication that Alaska remains important to meeting the nation’s energy needs”.
However, just 24 hours later Biden had effectively pulled the plug on those lease awards, with the moratorium put in place on his first day in office.
“At a time when the United States, and especially Alaska, is struggling to deal with the impacts of Covid-19, I am astounded to see that the Biden administration’s day one priority is put our economy, jobs and nation’s security at risk,” said Alaska Republican senator Lisa Murkowski.
'Realities of climate crisis'
However, environmental groups welcomed Biden’s executive orders intended to tackle climate change and help the drive to cleaner energy sources.
“Our long national nightmare of environmental carnage ends today,” said Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League was quoted by ArcticToday.
“And with a new administration that once again respects and values science, we can again acknowledge the realities of the climate crisis and advance solutions that will help create clean energy jobs, lift up frontline communities, and lead to better management and stewardship of our public lands,” he said.
“The announcement to shut down development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should come as no surprise,” said Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy.
“As a candidate, Joe Biden campaigned on stopping oil and gas development on federal lands. Make no mistake about it, President Biden appears to be making good on his promise to turn Alaska into a large national park.”
Dunleavy pledged to continue the fight to open the ANWR to oil and gas development.