Arctic Refuge Drilling

An airplane flies over caribou from the Porcupine Caribou Herd on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. The refuge takes up an area nearly the size of South Carolina in Alaska's northeast corner.

The Trump administration remains on track to hold an oil lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge this year, a top U.S. Interior Department official confirmed this week.

Interior is working on a final draft of an environmental impact statement for its oil leasing plan in the refuge’s coastal plain.

Speaking at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference in Anchorage, Interior Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Joe Balash said Thursday he expected that document to be released by August.

“Once we have a final EIS, we will be in a position to issue a record of decision and notice of lease sale,” Balash said. “And that lease sale will happen in 2019.”

Congress authorized drilling in the refuge in 2017 as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The legislation required the Interior Department to hold the first coastal plain lease sale within four years of its passage.

Balash said the department received over 1 million comments on its draft plan for leasing in the refuge.

Also at the conference, Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige said the state aims to hold its annual oil lease sale on the same day as the Arctic refuge oil lease sale.

In his remarks, Balash also commented on a recent court ruling that blocked the Trump administration’s move to reopen large portions of the Arctic Ocean to offshore oil leasing, calling it “really unfortunate.”

The Trump administration appealed the ruling this week. But Balash indicated he had reservations about how the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has ruled against the Trump administration on several key cases, will respond.

“We have to go through the 9th Circuit, since it was Judge (Sharon) Gleason’s decision. Everybody in this room knows what kind of a hurdle that is,” Balash said. “We have a lot of work in front of us before we are going to know exactly what the future holds for the Arctic OCS.”

Alaska’s Energy Desk is a public media collaboration focused on energy and the environment with partners KTOO in Juneau, Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KUCB in Unalaska, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Fairbanks, KBRW in Utqiagvik and KYUK in Bethel.