Oil exploration in Arctic Refuge on hold for now

A U.S. District Court decision upholding a Biden administration stand against opening the coastal plain of the Arctic Nation Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas exploration and drilling has put on hold for now preliminary work for the project. 

U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason last week denied a motion for summary judgment sought by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and state of Alaska that would have allowed work to continue toward exploration and drilling for oil and gas on the coastal plain.   

Gleason denied the summary judgement against President Joe Biden’s administration and Native Village of Venetie Tribal government.  

AIDEA must now wait until a new environmental assessment is completed later this year and a final supplemental environmental impact statement for the leasing program. 

The state has 60 days to appeal. 

“All claims against federal defendant are dismissed with prejudice,” Gleason wrote in the 74-page decision. 


Randy Ruaro, executive director of AIDEA, expressed disappointment with the court’s decision.  

“Jobs are critical for our state,” Ruaro said. “This is especially true for rural areas such as northern Alaska. That is why the North Slope Borough, Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation were all parties to thus lawsuit.” 

AIDEA contends that Congress clearly said the Interior Department had to go forward with leasing in ANWR and expected the Interior Department to allow oil and gas leases to produce jobs, oil and revenue for the federal Treasury. 

Alaska’s congressional delegation, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and North Slope Borough officials also were critical of the judge’s decision.  

“We hope a higher court will reverse this decision,” said Dunleavy. “The sooner the better.” 

The Gwich’in Steering Committee meanwhile heralded the court’s decision as protection of what the Gwich’in consider sacred lands of the coast plains, where caribou birth their young.  

“AIDEA has an agenda to drill on land sacred to our people and to promote a leasing program that threatens our way of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwin’chin Steering Committee.  

Demientieff said the ruling came as good news as the Gwich’in continue to defend the Porcupine caribou herd and their traditional way of life from what they consider to be destructive. 

“The Interior Department failed to specify what specific items were deficient in the court’s determination, and that the lack of clarity would likely lead to an open ended and costly delay in exploration,” Ruaro said. “Agency decisions must be final at some point and not subject to politics and the whims of changing administrations.” 

“We will always protect these sacred lands that connect our people culturally and spiritually,” Demientieff said. “We will always protect the caribou.” 

The Interior Department temporarily suspended leases in early 2021 to conduct a new environmental analysis of the leasing program. Trustees for Alaska went to court over that leasing program in 2020 on behalf of the same set of clients. AIDEA brought its lawsuit in 2021, seeking to end the temporary suspension of leaves. AIDEA, a public corporation of the state of Alaska, obtained the leases for the Arctic Refuge during a lease sale on Jan. 6, 2020.