Alaska Court Hears Arctic Refuge Oil Lease Challenge

Conservationists will try Monday to convince a US judge to stop the Trump administration from leasing oil and gas companies in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The video conference held at the US District Court in Anchorage is expected to determine whether the Bureau of Land Management can open bids for an online lease sale scheduled for Wednesday, Anchorage Daily News reported.

The land authority said in a statement that it was a legal requirement to establish an oil and gas program for the refuge’s coastal plain and make at least two sales there.

Conservation groups described the sale as a short-term move by the Trump administration to secure drilling rights for oil companies before President Donald Trump leaves office this month. [US Fish and Wildlife Service via AP]

The agency has offered 10-year leases for 22 areas covering approximately 4,048 square kilometers in the coastal plain, representing about 5 percent of the refuge area.

Conservation groups described the sale as a short-term move by the Trump administration to secure drilling rights for oil companies before President Donald Trump leaves office this month.

The lawsuit was filed by the National Audubon Society and three other conservation groups represented by attorneys for Earthjustice.

Federal attorneys will defend Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and others who intervened in the case, including the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.

Kara Moriarty, director of the oil and gas group, said she could not discuss the hearing because it was an ongoing legal issue.

The case is one of four lawsuits filed by conservationists, Alaska tribal members and 15 state governments trying to stop drilling at the sanctuary after the 2017 Republican-led Congress approved the sale of the lease. [US Fish and Wildlife Service via AP]

The group said in a legal letter that issuing a lease will not cause irreparable damage to the Arctic Refuge.

The case is one of four lawsuits filed by conservationists, Alaskan tribesmen and 15 state governments. The lawsuits are aimed at stopping drilling at the shelter after the Republican-led Congress approved the sale of the lease in 2017.

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Karlin Itchoak, state director of the Wilderness Society in Alaska, plaintiff in one of the cases, said her group hopes to put the oil leasing issue in the hands of President-elect Joe Biden, who has spoken out against drilling the refuge.

Monday’s arguments will only cover the potential problem of rental contracts and will not resolve the cases.

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