June 2 (UPI) — The Biden administration on Tuesday suspended all oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The Department of the Interior announced the suspension as it conducts a “comprehensive analysis” of the potential impacts of drilling in the area, which covers 19.6 million acres and is home to unique wildlife and vast amounts of oil and natural gas.
The decision follows an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on his first day in office on Jan. 20 that placed a temporary moratorium on any oil- and gas-related activities in the refuge after identifying “alleged legal deficiencies.”
In Tuesday’s secretarial order calling for the suspension, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland wrote that those legal deficiencies, “including the inadequacy of the environmental review required by the National Environmental Policy Act,” prompted the extended freeze.
The Trump administration put out a “call for nominations” in late 2020 asking for companies to stake claims on tracts in the refuge’s coastal plain that will be sold by the Interior Department and officially announced the issuance of leases on Jan. 19, former President Donald Trump’s final day in office.
The coastal plain covers 1.6 million acres of the refuge, which is home to caribou, polar bears and more than 280 species of other wildlife as well as between 4.25 billion and 11.8 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, according to an estimate by the Bureau of Land Management.
Following the analysis announced Tuesday, the Biden administration may impose additional restrictions on development or nullify leases issued by Trump.
Tuesday’s decision also comes after the Biden administration backed the development of ConocoPhillips’ Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, west of the refuge, prompting backlash from environmental groups.