OREANDA-NEWS. March 15, 2018. The US Interior Department is targeting early 2019 to complete an environmental review of oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) — a necessary step before it can hold two lease sales ordered by Congress.

The department's Bureau of Land Management as early as next week will issue a notice of intent to complete an environmental impact statement associated with the ANWR sale, assistant interior secretary Joe Balash said today. "When that process kicks off later this month we will live up to (our pledge) to have the environmental impact statement completed within a year," Balash said at a forum hosted by law firm Faegre Baker Daniels.

The legislation reducing US corporate tax rates that Congress passed late last year contained a provision ending a decades-old ban on oil and gas development in ANWR. The law requires that 800,000 acres in the so-called "1002 area" on Alaska's coastal plain be offered for leasing. The area is estimated to hold 10.4bn bl of technically recoverable oil.

Completing the environmental review is the first step before the Interior Department selects the parcels to be offered and posts the lease terms. Balash said he and and other Interior officials visited Alaska's North Slope last week to meet with local communities ahead of the environmental review.

"Assuming we do things the right way and lawyers do not make too much money on the litigation, we will see conclusion of that (statement) early next year," Balash said.

Environmental groups have vowed to fight any drilling in ANWR. Commercial oil production is not projected to begin for at least 10 years even if the lease sale is completed.

"I am hoping for a fairly aggressive timeline and will push for a lease sale in 2019," US senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) said last week.

Proponents of drilling hope that production from the ANWR would offset declining Prudhoe Bay output, which is making it difficult to continue Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) operations. Volumes on the TAPS system peaked at more than 2mn b/d in 1988 but have since dropped to nearly 500,000 b/d. The Taps network requires around 350,000 b/d to keep operating.