(CNN) — Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Monday announced plans for an oil and gas leasing program in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, clearing the way for drilling in the remote Alaskan area.
Bernhardt said a future lease of the federally-owned land will make the entire 1.5 million acre Coastal Plain area available.
Bernhardt said the announcement “marks a new chapter in American energy independence” and predicted it could “create thousands of new jobs.”
Drilling in these areas of the Alaskan arctic has long been controversial. A 2017 law required the department to hold two lease sales in the refuge by 2024. A date for those sales has not yet been set, Bernahrdt said.
Bernhardt told The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the plans, that approving the program would allow for oil leases “right around the end of the year.”
Republican Alaskan lawmakers, Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, praised the decision.
“This is a capstone moment in our decades-long push to allow for the responsible development of a small part of Alaska’s 1002 Area,” Murkowski said in a statement Monday. “Through this program, we will build on our already-strong record of an increasingly minimal footprint for responsible resource development.”