The U.S. Home Office has finalized a plan to allow oil and gas drilling within the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge, the largest protected natural area in the United States, banned from drilling for decades. A legal battle is looming.

Trump administration on Monday published a final authorization for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a natural area where they had been banned for several decades.

This immense wilderness located in northeast Alaska, populated by polar bears and caribou, is the largest wildlife refuge in the United States.

The document signed by Home Secretary David Bernhardt paves the way for drilling on a strip of 6,300 square kilometers, out of the 77,000 square kilometers that the area includes. The auction of oil leases could take place "around the end of the year", according to the Secretary of the Interior.

The chosen area, known as Zone 1002, would contain the largest untapped land-based oil reserves in North America. With less than three months of the presidential election, the Trump administration maintains that this decision will result in the creation of "thousands of new jobs" and generate "tens of billions of dollars". This announcement "marks a new chapter in American energy independence", argued David Bernhardt at a press conference, while in the United States, the kingdom of shale oil, a real collapse of activity is underway.


The fierce legal battle insight

If oil or gas reserves were discovered, their exploitation could begin in about eight years, said Bernhardt. Unless she never starts. Drilling in this area of ​​Alaska has long been a subject of controversy and these plans will certainly face legal challenges.

Environmental activists have already warned of a devastating environmental effect of opening up this area to drilling, at a time when the use of fossil fuels should be reduced to fight against global warming.

According to them, the drilling could also harm the polar bears, at risk, and the herds of migrating caribou, which come to this coastal plain to give birth.

According to the New York Times, they plan to take legal action in an attempt to delay or block the concession program. Environmental groups have previously argued that the Home Office has not sufficiently considered the effects oil and gas development could have on climate change and on local wildlife.

Opponents of this project believe this decision is all the more unjustifiable as the prices of hydrocarbons are trending downwards. "It is completely stupid to put this magnificent place in peril when the world oil market is saturated," said a representative of the Center for Biological Diversity.

For several decades, companies in the hydrocarbon sector have been pressuring the federal authorities to open part of this nature reserve to drilling. In 2017, Republicans in Congress finally included an amendment in a tax bill allowing the Home Office to establish a plan to sell leases in the Coastal Plain.