Cantwell Statement on Review of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Drilling

Interior Department restarts environmental review of flawed Arctic oil and gas leasing program. Cantwell on previous Arctic Refuge lease sale: “the Trump administration spent more on preparing for the failed lease than what they raised.”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) questioned Cynthia Weiner Stachelberg, nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Interior (Policy, Management, and Budget), on the status of oil and natural gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Arctic Refuge), including today’s announcement that Department of the Interior (DOI) plans to restart a crucial environmental review.

“Ms. Stachelberg, if nominated, you'll have a key role in stewarding on our public lands. I want to ask you about the failed oil and gas lease sale earlier this year and rise to drill in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. I say failed because you know that the lease sale brought in a paltry $6 million to the Treasury that is 0.67% of the $1.1 billion estimated that was used to justify opening this pristine wildlife refuge in 2017. In fact, the Trump administration spent more on preparing for the failed lease than what they raised. So to me, they didn't count a lot of associated costs and harm to communities and impacts,” said Cantwell.

“I understand that in the last hour, the Department of Interior announced they will conduct a new environmental review of the Arctic Wildlife drilling program that will include consideration of greenhouse gas impacts. How do you think the newly announced environmental review will help us get a more accurate cost for Arctic drilling?”

Weiner Stachelberg responded, “…I'm not familiar with a recently issued review, I will say that your point does show the limited commercial benefits and interest…if I'm confirmed, I look forward to working with you and others on the committee and receiving a briefing on that really important issue,”

Cantwell followed up, “But you do agree that you need accurate costs and cost assessments?”

“I absolutely believe that you need accurate costs. And I look forward to working with you and others at the Department of Interior to assess and gather those accurate costs,” Weiner Stachelberg answered.

The Biden Administration’s announcement provides official notice that the Department of the Interior, acting through the Bureau of Land Management, will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement for the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The area containing the Coastal Plain includes 1.6 million acres within the 19.3 million-acre Arctic Refuge.

Cantwell has been the leading congressional champion of the Arctic Refuge and repeatedly fought back against efforts to drill in the pristine wilderness throughout her time in office. In February, Cantwell questioned Secretary Haaland about her commitment to using a science-based approach when it comes to protecting Arctic wildlife during her nomination hearing and also reintroduced legislation to protect the Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain and prevent oil and gas exploration and development activities.

In November 2020, Cantwell blasted the Trump administration’s last-ditch rush to approve drilling leases in the Arctic Refuge before President-elect Biden was sworn into office. In September 2019, Cantwell introduced legislation to permanently protect the refuge from oil and gas drilling. Cantwell has repeatedly voiced support for protecting the refuge and has co-sponsored multiple bills to designate its coastal plain as a Wilderness area. In December of 2005, Cantwell led a historic filibuster that reversed a backdoor maneuver in the Senate to allow drilling in the refuge.

Video from today’s hearing is available HERE, audio is available HERE, and a full transcript is available HERE.

The full text of the DOI request is available HERE.