Feds remove about 750 square miles from Alaska lease sale

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The federal Bureau of Land Management said it will remove nearly 750 square miles (1,942 square kilometres ) from its Jan. 6 oil and gas lease sale for a part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The agency said Friday it would begin taking bids the following Monday for the rest of the land.

The land available for purchase is in the refuge's northernmost region. The land management agency had initially proposed to offer the vast majority of the plain to bidders, which would have encompassed about 2,500 square miles (6,475 square kilometres ) of the nearly 30,000-square-mile (77,700 square kilometre ) refuge.

But the agency said it received substantive comments from Canadian officials, conservation groups, tribal organizations and others about how the coastal plain consists of much of the Porcupine caribou herd's calving grounds. Concerns were also made on behalf of polar bears and birds in the area. Data gleaned during a federal environmental analysis and industry interest were also examined, the agency said.

“In addition to tract nominations, BLM received and reviewed over 40,000 comments during the nomination and comment period, the vast majority of which were opposed to leasing of any tracts in the Coastal Plain,” the agency said.

The land no longer available for purchase is in the southeast portion of the coastal plain, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

The U.S. Congress in 2017 approved the development of oil and gas in the refuge's coastal plain after many years of pushback by conservation groups and Alaska Native tribes.

The bill directed the federal land management agency to host two oil and gas lease sales and offer at least 625 square miles (1,619 square kilometres ) of land for bid by 2024.

Conservation and indigenous groups have sued to try to stop the Jan. 6 sale.

President-elect Joe Biden and his nominee for Interior secretary, Democratic Rep. Debra Haaland, have both expressed their opposition toward oil development in the refuge.

The Associated Press