Three oil companies have canceled their leases to take oil from Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), according to the Bureau of Land Management.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 19.3-million-acre area that occupies the entire northeastern corner of Alaska, called the Alaska North Slope region. It’s the largest wildlife refuge in the country, founded in 1960. It’s also sacred land to the Indigenous Gwich’in people. They call the coastal plain of the North Slope “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit” (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins).

Since 1977, there has been political conflict over whether to allow drilling in the North Slope. Surveys indicate that the refuge sits over an immense reserve of oil, and around its fringes, several major oil companies already drill with the permission of Alaska native corporations.

In 2017, President Trump’s administration mandated that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke approve at least two lease sales for drilling in the refuge, after making it impermissible to consider climate impact in environmental reviews for major projects. Two years later, the administration recommended that the entire coastal plan be opened for gas and oil exploration. A few months later, new Interior Secretary David Bernhardt announced an auction for not three, but 22 land leases in the refuge. Three companies bought eleven of the leases for a collective $14.4 million, under a hundredth of the projected $1.8 billion profits.

Since the 2021 auction, controversy has dogged every step of those leases, and President Biden put a temporary halt on any Arctic development pending a real environmental review. In response, the three oil companies: Regenerate Alaska, Hilcorp, and Chevron, have formally exited their leases, abandoning for now their plans to drill for fossil fuel in the protected Arctic.

The pullouts mean there will be no new oil jobs coming to Alaska, which is a negative impact. But those jobs were only ever going to be temporary, and the damage drilling in the refuge would inevitably do would have been permanent.

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