Anchorage — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management Jan. 19 issued leases for nine of the tracts that received qualifying bids in the Jan. 6 Arctic National Wildlife Refuge oil and gas lease sale.
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The leases were issued just one day before President-elect Joe Biden is to be sworn into office.
Biden has said he opposes exploration and development in the Alaska refuge, so outgoing Interior Department officials in the Trump administration timed the lease sale and the award of the leases to happen before Jan. 20, when Biden takes office.
Now that leases are issued it may be difficult for the Biden administration to undo the action. However, any exploration and development plans will require permits from a Biden Interior Department, which may present a challenge to the new leaseholders.
There are also lawsuits pending filed by conservation groups against the Trump Interior Department over the adequacy of environmental studies supporting the lease sale.
Seven of the nine leases were awarded to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, the state's development finance corporation, which submitted minimum bids on 11 tracts. Two leases were awarded to private entities that bid in the sale.
BLM did not award two of the tracts on which AIDEA had bid but did not give a reason.
One tract was awarded to private company Regenerate Alaska, Inc., an Alaska-based independent affiliated with Australia-based 88 Energy. A lease was also awarded to Knik Arm Services, LLC, an Alaskan investment group.
BLM has now issued leases on 437,804 acres of some of the most highly prospective land on Alaska's North Slope, BLM said in its press release. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates nearly 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil on the Coastal Plain.
The lease now held by Regenerate Alaska is adjacent to the western border of ANWR, on the Canning River. Across the river, on state of Alaska lands, Jade Energy, another independent affiliated with 88 Energy and Regenerate Alaska, holds state leases with a confirmed oil discovery.
Jade Energy is planning an exploration/delineation well this winter to further test the discovery made several years ago by BP. There are reports that the underground reservoir extends east across the river into ANWR subsurface below the federal lease held by Regenerate Alaska.
The lease now held by Knik Arm Services is further east and is part of the coastal plain near the Marsh Creek Anticline, a geological structure believed to have good potential based on surface geology and a seismic survey done in the 1980s.
AIDEA's plan, meanwhile, is to negotiate exploration deals on its seven leases, agency managers have said. The lease terms are for 10 years.