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ANCHORAGE, Dec. 14, 2016 – The Bureau of Land Management today auctioned off oil and gas leases across 1.4 million acres of public lands in northern Alaska in a step that will deepen the climate crisis and further endanger polar bears, ice seals and other wildlife. Dozens of activists protested ahead of the sale — the final sale of the Obama presidency — highlighting the disconnect between President Obama’s climate rhetoric and what his administration has called its “all of the above” energy policy, which has made the United States the third biggest oil-producing nation in the world.
Protesters at this and other recent BLM fossil fuel auctions around the country hoped Obama would cancel the sale, which lasts for decades, in light of President-elect Trump’s promise to accelerate the extraction and burning of fossil fuels and abandon the country’s commitments to address climate change. Speakers and demonstrators from the “Keep It in the Ground” movement gathered outside the Anchorage federal building before the new leases were announced. They noted the irony of the final lease-sale being offered in Alaska, a region warming at twice the global rate, where polar bears, ice seals and other endangered species face extinction because of rapidly melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean, right next to where today’s leases were offered.
“Alaskans are on the front lines of climate change. We’re worried about the damage Trump is promising to inflict and disappointed that Obama and the BLM allowed this sale to proceed,” said Dune Lankard, a Native Alaskan and the Center for Biological Diversity’s senior Alaska representative. “Now’s the time for everyone to pull together and resist any rollbacks in our country’s commitment to address climate change and the extinction crisis.”
Although the leases were offered in an area dubbed the “National Petroleum Reserve” back in 1923, this vast unspoiled wilderness is teeming with wildlife. Abundant grizzly bears, wolverines and wolves are supported by herds of a half-million caribou and indigenous tribes still practice their traditional subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering. This 37,000 square-mile region includes Teshekpuk Lake, the headlands of the Colville River, and endless wetlands that support millions of migratory birds.
While disappointed that today’s lease sale went through, conservation groups remain hopeful that President Obama will use his executive authority to permanently remove federal waters in the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific oceans from the federal fossil fuel leasing program before he leave offices.