By Timothy Puko 

WASHINGTON -- The Biden administration is putting a hold on oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the latest move in its effort to stop a first-ever oil-drilling program in the pristine 19-million-acre wilderness.

The leases were approved in the waning days of the Trump administration.

The Interior Department, which oversees the program and the refuge, said it will start a deeper analysis of the environmental impacts of drilling in the area.

The decision comes after President Biden, during his first week in office, ordered a review citing "alleged legal deficiencies" in the original leasing program and put in place a temporary moratorium.

The decision was reported earlier by Politico.

The refuge -- a remote corner of northeast Alaska that is about the size of South Carolina -- is home to polar bears and caribou herds. It has been off limits to drillers, miners and other developers for decades. Mr. Biden has sided with environmentalists who say the area should remain pristine, protected wilderness.

However. Congress passed a mandate to lease oil rights in the coastal plain of the refuge in its tax overhaul in 2017, when both the House and Senate were in Republican control.

Former President Donald Trump's administration finished the first lease sale just days before Mr. Trump left office, potentially locking in those drilling rights even though no major oil companies were among the bidders.

Mr. Biden called for a closer look at the Arctic refuge leasing program in a Jan. 20 executive order in which the president said the Trump administration's environmental review of the program was inadequate.

In addition to reviewing the program, the order said the Interior Department should, if necessary, conduct a new environmental analysis of oil and gas development in the area.

Tuesday's decision follows a series of court arguments this spring in which the Biden administration supported oil and mining projects on federal land. That angered environmentalists who supported Mr. Biden's campaign. But it mproved his standing with some lawmakers in Western oil-producing states, whose support Mr. Biden will need to get his nominees and initiatives through Congress.

Among the projects supported by the Biden administration were ConocoPhillips' Willow oil project in Alaska; the Resolution Copper Mining project in Arizona by Rio Tinto PLC and BHP Billiton Ltd.; and the Dakota Access Pipeline by Energy Transfer LP.

Write to Timothy Puko at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

June 01, 2021 16:42 ET (20:42 GMT)

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