“Activities will support a phased, multi-year seismic acquisition program targeted to begin in 2022,” AIDEA announced in the press release.
But that process is now on hold until the new environmental impact statement is completed. In the June 1 secretarial order suspending the leases, DOI said the supplemental EIS was necessary because of “multiple legal deficiencies” in the original review. It also stated that any activity related to the oil and gas leasing program, including exploration work, would be paused and that any future or pending applications would not be processed. The new review could take a year or longer, dealing a significant setback to the state’s effort to initiate oil and gas development in the coastal plain.
Progressive Democrats in Congress are also aiming to reverse the 2017 opening of ANWR to exploration and production. E&E News reported last week discussions that are underway include language in the budget reconciliation package to block activity there.
AIDEA was one of only three bidders to buy up leases in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge during the Jan. 6 auction. The state-owned corporation now owns the rights to develop seven parcels in the western portion of the coastal plain. Two other private companies each own one lease. But the Biden administration, after imposing a temporary moratorium on all oil and gas leasing activity in the refuge on its first day in office, has since suspended those leases casting a cloud of uncertainty over the entire program.
AIDEA did not immediately comment.
Seismic surveys of the coastal plain have only been conducted once before, in the mid-1980s, but technology has advanced considerably since then and the industry had hoped to carry out new 3D surveys of the refuge once the area was opened to oil and gas exploration and development in 2017. Efforts to approve surveys under the Trump administration were unsuccessful largely because of concerns raised by Fish and Wildlife Service over impacts to the Southern Beaufort Sea polar bear population, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Another application for seismic surveys of the refuge submitted by Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation in Oct. 2020 has also been delayed until the supplemental environmental review is complete, according to the DOI spokesperson.