Caribou in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Danielle Brigida/Flickr
The United States has cancelled the only seven oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a move cheered by Gwich’in representatives who have sought to defend the area.
The leases were originally issued by the Trump administration following legislation passed in 2017. The Biden administration announced their cancellation on Wednesday.
Two other leases had been cancelled earlier. The remaining seven were owned by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state economic development corporation.
In a statement, the Gwich’in Steering Committee – a unified Gwich’in advocacy body that has lobbied against oil drilling in the refuge since 1988 – praised Wednesday’s announcement.
“Cancellation of these leases is a step to rectify attempted violence against our people, the animals and sacred land,” the steering committee stated.
“The leases were economically infeasible, threatened the Porcupine caribou herd and the Gwich’in way of life and, if developed, would have added to the already deteriorating climate in the Arctic and the world over.”
But the steering committee said it remained concerned about a second sale of leases in the refuge, which the 2017 law states must take place in 2024. The Biden administration has said it will comply with the legislation. A related type of environmental assessment known as a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) is also under way.
“We know that our sacred land is only temporarily safe from oil and gas development. Our concern now is the SEIS process and the mandated second lease sale in 2024,” the steering committee stated.
The Gwich’in Steering Committee was among 14 organizations that filed a lawsuit against the lease sale. The original sale went ahead in 2021 despite the lawsuit and objections from Indigenous groups.