Dems Use Alaska Oil Lease Sale Numbers To Undermine GOP ANWR Push

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Democrats and environmental activists are using the weak oil and gas lease sale numbers on federal lands in Alaska to undermine the GOP’s push to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling.

The Interior Department revealed its recent lease sale of 900 tracts, covering 10 million acres, of land in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) raised $1.2 million from a joint bid from ConocoPhillips and Anadarko for 80,000 acres.

Oil companies bought the land for $14.99 an acre to expand their existing holdings. The federal lease sale at NPR-A in 2016 raised more than $18 million for 613,000 acres, again mostly from ConocoPhillips.

Environmentalists pounced, using the weak sales numbers to hammer President Donald Trump’s administration’s expanding Arctic leases and the GOP’s reconciliation bill to raise $1 billion over ten years from opening ANWR to drilling.

“Today’s lease sale shows once again the fuzzy Arctic refuge math by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans,” Kristen Miller of the Alaska Wilderness League told Alaska Dispatch News.

Miller said opening up ANWR’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain to drilling would only generate $11 million in federal revenue at $14.99 an acre — nowhere near what the GOP plans on raising as part of their tax legislation.

Senate Democrats also went after the lease sale results. “There’s simply no market for oil leasing in the Arctic,” said the spokesman for Democrats on the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

However, Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Andy Mack said it’s inappropriate to compare NPR-A lease results to a potential opening of ANWR, where interest for drilling is likely higher.

“The biggest point is this is wide open, with not one existing lease in this area,” Mack told ADN.

NPR-A is about 150 miles west of ANWR, but the latter has much more oil. Between both areas is Prudhoe Bay, the country’s largest oil field.

NPR-A holds 896 million barrels of recoverable oil and 52.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2010 and experts estimated in 1998 that the reserve held anywhere from four to 12 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Alaska GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced legislation to raise $1 billion over ten years through opening ANWR to oil and gas exploration, reigniting a decades-long battle over the refuge.

The ANWR bill passed the Senate Saturday and is expected to pass out of the House. The bill would open up about eight percent of ANWR’s 19.2 million acres to drilling, an area known as the “1002 area” or coastal plain.

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