The Fight Over Arctic Refuge Drilling Rights

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Article by Tei Kim, Writer

Reading Time: 2 minutes

On January 6, 2021, the Trump administration auctioned drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANRW) to various oil and drilling companies, attracting significant attention and leading to legal battles from indigenous peoples, as well as public outcry regarding environmental ethics. 

Ranging from protests and petitions to social media promotion, people from all over the globe showed their passion for this issue. Unexpectedly, however, the sale did not succeed as planned—it was described as an “epic failure” by critics. Half the offered leases were not bid upon at all, and the lease sale ended with a measly three bidders. Originally a part of a plan to make up for a tax reduction, the sale raised only $14.4 million, nowhere near its aim or projection.

The issue of oil drilling in the Arctic Refuge has been the subject of controversy since 1977. Republicans have long supported it, claiming that it would support the growth of the U.S. economy, and that the country would become less reliant on foreign sources of energy. However, former President Barack Obama said, “I strongly reject drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because it would irreversibly damage a protected national wildlife refuge without creating sufficient oil supplies to meaningfully affect the global market price or have a discernible impact on U.S. energy security.” 

The disparity in perspective between the two parties is clearly visible. Since 2017, Republicans have attempted to allow drilling almost fifty times, and they were finally successful with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which led to the auction of drilling rights in the ANRW that occurred earlier this month.

The corporations that did participate in the sale are expected to partner with oil companies to carry out the drilling. The leases are yet to be finalized, through a legal process that usually takes approximately two months. However, with a new administration in town, U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman claims that oil drilling in the Arctic will face severe opposition, as President Joe Biden is strongly in disagreement with this lease. 

Nevertheless, it will still be extremely difficult for the new administration to revoke previously issued oil leases by President Trump. Although the future of the Arctic may seem bleak, not all hope is lost. Critics speculate that the negative publicity brought upon the leases by the media and press may have hindered some companies from participating in the auction. Petitions on social media and Instagram stories may seem irrelevant or significant, and far from actual advocacy. However, in cases like these, they may serve to protect our Earth. 

The ANRW is not only one of the last places left on Earth free from development, but it is also home to various species such as polar bears and caribou. The threat to the refuge is higher than ever, and hope may seem lost, but the fight is not yet over.