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BLM Proposes Drilling Expansion in National Petroleum Reserve

Nov. 22, 2019, 7:20 PM

The Trump administration is considering opening up to 6.5 million acres of Alaska’s North Slope to new oil and gas development.

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association says such a move in the National Petroleum Reserve will continue a “renaissance” for fossil fuel development in Alaska. But environmental groups warn the proposal will destroy polar bear habitat and contribute to climate change.

The Bureau of Land Management on Nov. 21 released a draft environmental review of a plan to potentially expand oil and gas development within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or NPR-A, a broad region on the coast of the Arctic Ocean west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

The draft outlines four possibilities for new oil and gas development in the NPR-A, ranging from slightly decreasing the currently available 11.8 million acres open to development, to increasing that acreage to 18.3 million acres, or 81% of the reserve—an option known as “Alternative D.” BLM doesn’t identify which alternative they prefer.

A public comment period on the proposal ends Jan. 21, 2020, and a final decision is expected sometime next year.

Flexibility for Oil Industry

“We’ve long believed there could be a management plan that could allow for development in a much more effective way, but protecting the most sensitive areas,” Kara Moriarty, CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, told Bloomberg Environment in Anchorage Nov. 22.

Moriarty said she hasn’t seen the draft proposal, but “hopefully it will lead to continued successful lease sales which then lead to exploration and development of that area.”

The industry is seeking more flexibility in its ability develop the NPR-A so it can drill for oil farther west than the existing oil fields, Moriarty said.

The BLM released the plan as it prepares to hold an oil and gas lease sale in the NPR-A on Dec. 11, and also release its final decision on a plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas leasing. The moves are part of the Trump administration’s prioritization of fossil fuels development, logging, and mining on federal land nationwide.

Contributing to Climate Change

At the same time, climate change is warming the Arctic faster than any other region of North America. Scientists say global warming driven by fossil fuel use is melting Arctic permafrost, fueling catastrophic wildfires in Alaska, and contributing to rising sea levels.

The draft environmental review says the option calling for the most new oil development in the NPR-A would increase the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change by 75% compared to the allowable oil drilling the current management plan.

The draft plan says that “the greenhouse gas emissions due to Alternative D will contribute further to the climate change impacts,” including melting polar ice caps, thawing permafrost, increasing Arctic average temperatures by up to 12 degrees Fahrenheit within 80 years, and increasing Alaska’s annual rainfall by 30%.

“The Trump administration is marching ahead with its plan for energy dominance, no matter the cost to our public lands, wildlife, and people,” Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director for Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Chuck McCutcheon at; Anna Yukhananov at