The Trump administration on Wednesday found few takers at its sale of drilling leases in a pristine Arctic wildlife refuge, with an Alaska state agency emerging as the sole bidder for most of the acreage sold.

Oil drillers shrug off Trump's U.S. Arctic wildlife refuge auction- oil and gas 360

Source: Reuters

The sale, which generated around $14.4 million in high bids, marked a rejection by the oil and gas industry of one of President Donald Trump’s signature efforts to expand fossil fuel and mineral development in the United States and to Alaska officials’ decades-long effort to open up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Proceeds were a far cry from the Congressional Budget Office estimate from 2019 of $1.8 billion in bids from two ANWR lease sales over a decade. U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) officials called the sale “a success” while environmental groups labeled it an “epic failure.”

It came two weeks before the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to protect the 19.6 million-acre habitat for polar bears, caribou and migratory birds and to ban new oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

On a day when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol building, the White House would not comment on the sale.

BLM said it received complete bids on half of the 22 tracts offered, and 50% of the acreage.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority won nine tracts, while small independent companies, Knik Arm Services LLC and Regenerate Alaska Inc, won two. Alaska has said it hopes to partner with oil companies to develop the leases it won in the auction.

BLM officials would not speculate on why oil and gas companies declined to submit bids in the auction, which the Interior Department pushed for months to deliver before Trump leaves office.

“While it might not meet some of the targets that some folks think it should meet, it’s still a successful sale,” BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said on a call with reporters.

U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, who pushed for Congress to open up ANWR to oil and gas development as part of the 2017 tax bill, said in a statement the sale “did not occur under ideal conditions” but would benefit Alaskans “well into the future.”

The American Petroleum Institute, the top U.S. oil and gas trade group, issued a statement citing weaker fuel demand during the coronavirus pandemic and potential federal policy changes for “continued uncertainty” surrounding investment decisions.

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