JUNEAU, Alaska — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to hold an oil and gas lease sale for land in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge next month. Meanwhile, banks around the world are publicly saying they will not finance oil and gas development in the Arctic.
The land agency says it plans to hold a lease sale on Jan. 6. It comes just weeks before President-elect Joe Biden is set to take office, and he has said he opposes drilling in that region.
The refuge is home to migrating caribou, polar bears and other wildlife.
"Congress directed us to hold lease sales in the ANWR Coastal Plain, and we have taken a significant step in announcing the first sale in advance of the December 2021 deadline set by law," said a statement Thursday from Chad Padgett, the Alaska state director for the Bureau of Land Management.
In 2017, the Republican-led Congress approved legislation to open up the coastal Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil development. The measure required two lease sales within seven years, with the first sale no later than the end of 2021.
Conservation groups criticized news of the sale as rushed and based on environmental reviews that are currently being challenged in court as flawed. Conservation groups, the Indigenous Gwich'in people, and a coalition of 15 states have filed lawsuits challenging the environmental reviews.
Alaska politicians say opening the area for exploration would boost oil production, create jobs and generate royalties.
However, even if a lease sale is held, there are questions about which companies could afford to drill in the refuge.
Just this week, Bank of America said they are ruling out financing for oil and gas development in the Arctic, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. They are the latest U.S. bank to publicly commit to not financing oil and gas development in the region.
“There’s been misunderstanding around our position, but we have not historically participated in project finance for oil and gas exploration in the Arctic,” Larry Di Rita, the bank’s head of public policy and strategy in Washington, told Bloomberg.
“But given that misinterpretation, we’ve determined that it’s time to codify our existing practice into policy.”
Bank of America joins Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi and Morgan Stanley and nearly 30 major banks from around the world have committed to not fund oil and gas development in the Arctic.