US President Joe Biden’s administration has cancelled oil and gas leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has an estimated 11 billion barrels of oil, the Interior Department announced.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Department said that revoking the drilling leases granted under former President Donald Trump would preserve 13 million acres of wilderness, the BBC reported.
Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said the decision would protect a sensitive landscape that has been disproportionately affected by climate change, which is causing the Arctic to warm two-to-four times faster than the rest of the planet.
“We have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages,” the BBC quoted President Biden as saying.
The decision would protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he said, and honour “the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on these lands since time immemorial”.
The decision also drew praise from some local tribespeople.
The Arctic Village and Venetie Tribal governments said it was “a significant step towards true, meaningful protection of these lands that are so vital to the survival of our people now and into the future”, reports the BBC.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge encompasses 19.6 million acres in remote northeastern Alaska.
It is home to all three species of North American bears (black, brown, and polar), and to the Porcupine caribou herd, the Central Arctic caribou herd, Dall sheep, muskox, wolves, and wolverines.
The refuge is located on the traditional homelands of the Inupiat and Gwichʼin peoples.
Approximately the size of South Carolina, it has no roads or facilities.