December 11, 2019 / 8:57 PM / 3 months ago

U.S. holds most successful Alaska oil and gas lease sale in 13 years

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The United States held its most successful Alaska oil and gas lease sale in more than a decade, officials said, with the majority of bids coming from a new player, North Slope Exploration LLC.

There were more than $11 million in total high bids for about 1 million acres (0.4 million hectare) in the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska (NPR-A), according to Ted Murphy, Alaska associate state director for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

That is about 25% of the offered tracts, far more than in 2018, when only about $1.5 million in bids were received, covering about 6% of the offered acres. It stands as the state’s biggest sale in terms of dollars since 2006, when $13.8 million in high bids were submitted.

This year’s sale averaged $11 an acre, while prices in the 2006 sale averaged more than $14 an acre.

“It is indeed exciting to receive bids on more than 25% of the tracts that we offered, as well as to see a new player, North Slope Exploration, coming into the National Petroleum Reserve of Alaska,” said Murphy.

NPR-A is federally owned land on Alaska’s North Slope where BLM holds annual oil and gas lease sales.

The sale is part of President Donald Trump’s effort to make the United States “energy dominant” by boosting output of oil, natural gas and coal.

The liberal think tank Center for American Progress said the sale amounted to leasing public wilderness for “next to nothing.”

North Slope Exploration LLC, associated with William Armstrong of Denver-based Armstrong Energy, submitted almost all of the bids, accounting for 85 of the 92 tracts. The company could not immediately be reached for comment.

ConocoPhillips Alaska and Alaska Emerald House LLC accounted for the others.

The 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve is considered a hotbed for new oil discoveries as development spreads west on the North Slope. ConocoPhillips has been the most active operator.

The Trump administration is in the process of opening up more of the reserve to leasing by rewriting an Obama-era management plan that put about half of the area off-limits to development.

That 2013 plan identifies five special areas to be protected for their importance to caribou, migratory birds and other wildlife and to indigenous cultural uses.

The Trump administration is proposing a rewrite that would open up as much as 81% of the reserve to oil leasing.

Reporting by Yereth Rosen in Anchorage, Alaska, and Nichola Groom in Los Angeles; Editing by Marguerita Choy and Matthew Lewis

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