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Trump Administration's Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale a 'Major Flop'

Energy
Northeast National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. Bob Wick / BLM

Despite the Trump administration's unrelenting quest to drill the Arctic, Wednesday's oil and gas lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) yielded a "disappointing" return of $1.5 million, E&E News reported.

Oil and gas giants ConocoPhillips, Emerald House and Nordaq Energy were the three companies that made uncontested bids on 16 tracts of land out of 254 tracts made available by the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) annual sale in the western Arctic.


In all, the companies swooped up roughly 174,000 acres of the 2.85 million acres offered, working out to an average of just $6.50 an acre.

"Federal officials [cited] a lack of access to the most promising areas as a reason for the modest bidding," the Anchorage Daily News reported.

But the Center for American Progress said the result was a "major flop that shortchanged taxpayers" and also puts the nearby Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) environment at risk.

"These results show that the fiscal arguments—including promises of more than $1 billion, or bids of $1,000 per acre—made for drilling in the neighboring Arctic National Wildlife Refuge were a complete scam," the organization tweeted. "Taxpayers are being sold a false bill of goods in the Arctic Refuge, and stand to lose America's last best wilderness in the process."

The Trump administration is moving forward on its controversial oil and gas drilling plans in the pristine Arctic reserve, a habitat for polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other species.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Kristen Miller, the conservation director at the Alaska Wilderness League, similarly criticized Wednesday's "bargain sale," noting that "our public lands are worth more than that."

The sale is "just the next chapter in the current administration's all-out push to sell off the Arctic for oil and gas development," she added. "The Trump administration is aggressively pursuing development in the Arctic Refuge, the Arctic Ocean and the Western Arctic simultaneously, often on a rushed timeline with little to no new information gathering to inform decisions."

In October 2017, the Trump administration announced it will begin selling oil and gas leases on 900 tracts of land—totaling 10.3 million acres—within the NPR-A.

"This large and unprecedented sale in Alaska will help achieve our goal of American Energy Dominance," Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke touted then.

But when auction day came around later that year, oil companies submitted bids on only seven tracts, totaling $1.16 million.

"Once again Secretary Zinke has tried to throw open the Alaskan Arctic to drilling, and once again the oil and gas industry said they weren't interested," Jesse Prentice-Dunn, the Center for Western Priorities' policy director, said in the statement Wednesday, as quoted by KTVA. "Today's underwhelming lease sale shows just how desperate the Trump administration is to mine and drill our public lands, regardless of how pristine those places may be."

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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