New York (AFP) -
US President Donald Trump's administration auctioned off 11 oil leases in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge on Wednesday, in a last-ditch move to expand drilling in the areas coveted by some petroleum producers before he leaves office.
Major oil companies however sat out bidding for tracts in the environmentally sensitive area, and nine of the leases went to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state agency, while two went to small companies.
The sale raised $14 million.
The White House announced the plan to go ahead with the sale in mid-November just weeks after Trump lost his reelection bid to former Democratic vice president Joe Biden.
An area long sought by petroleum interests and defended by environmentalists, drilling in the refuge was authorized in the 2017 tax reform legislation.
But some major banks have said they won't finance projects in the refuge, and environmentalists continue to battle the plan in court.
Interior Department Deputy Secretary Kate McGregor described the sale as a 'truly historic' event that will 'result in economic benefits to Alaskans and the nation, as well as contribute to (increasing) domestic energy production and job creation.'
The Alaska Wilderness League blasted the move and condemned the sale as 'an utter failure,' which is 'less than one percent of the $1.8 billion promised by the Tax Act when the Arctic Refuge leasing was mandated,' the environmental group said on Twitter.
'We will not stop fighting to #Protectthe Arctic!'