Alaska’s state development corporation weighs bidding in ANWR lease sale

A tundra landscape half covered in ice
The coastal plain is the northernmost piece of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It covers about 1.5 million acres, about 8% of the vast refuge. (Department of Interior)

Alaska’s state-owned development corporation may bid in the upcoming oil and gas lease sale in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is asking its board to allow it to spend up to $20 million on the sale.

The board will consider the request at its meeting late Wednesday afternoon.

The proposed resolution was first reported Monday by the Anchorage Daily News.

AIDEA’s director, Alan Weitzner, said if the corporation acquired a lease — or multiple leases — it would then partner with companies that would do the drilling. The goal is to develop the land, he said.

“There’s an opportunity here to really establish some economic growth for the state of Alaska,” Weitzner said in a phone interview Tuesday.

AIDEA’s request comes as speculation looms over whether the oil industry has much interest in bidding in the Jan. 6 lease sale. 

A map shows the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain broken into numbered tracts, with some of them shaded gray in the southeast corner to show which pieces of land have been removed from the upcoming lease sale.
A map of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain shows numbered tracts of land included in an oil and gas lease sale scheduled for Jan. 6. The Bureau of Land Management has ruled out the sale of the gray shaded sections. (BLM)

The sale is surrounded by controversy and lawsuits, and will be held two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. Biden has said he opposes drilling in the refuge, and that he’ll take steps to permanently protect the land.

RELATED: The Trump administration is moving to sell leases in ANWR, but will anyone show up for a sale?

Former Alaska Govs. Bill Walker and Frank Murkowski have recently urged the state to submit at least the minimum bid on the oil leases, so it can secure the drilling rights in case no one else puts in an offer. 

If no one bids, the federal government will maintain control of the land “that we have fought long and hard to responsibly develop,” Walker wrote in an opinion column published in the Daily News. 

The AIDEA board is scheduled to meet at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, and will take public comment by phone for 90 minutes, according to the agenda.

Critics say the corporation did not give enough notice of its proposal to bid.

“AIDEA’s disregard for the public process is evident when providing public notice of meetings only three working days before meeting to discuss and vote on this important and far-reaching resolution,” Veri di Suvero, executive director of the Alaska Public Interest Research Group, wrote in comments to the board Tuesday. 

The upcoming lease sale stems from a tax act passed by Congress in late 2017. The bill included a provision that opened the coastal plain to drilling after decades of protections.

The federal Bureau of Land Management posted the details of the sale earlier this month, and on Friday announced it was taking about 30% of the acreage off the table.

Weitzner said if its board approves AIDEA’s proposal, they would then evaluate the remaining 1 million acres, and decide on bidding.

He would have until just 4 p.m. on Dec. 31 to submit any offers to the Bureau of Land Management, which will open the sealed bids on Jan. 6.

Weitzner said he was not aware of the corporation submitting bids for federal oil and gas leases in the past.

The $20 million he’s proposing to use to pay for leases in the refuge would come from the corporation’s Arctic Infrastructure Development Fund, created by the state Legislature.

Reach reporter Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@alaskapublic.org or 907-550-8447.