Environment & Energy Report

Interior to Fully Open Alaska Petroleum Reserve to Drilling (1)

June 25, 2020, 3:04 PMUpdated: June 25, 2020, 8:24 PM

More than 18 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska would be opened to oil and gas leasing and development under a proposal the Bureau of Land Management published Thursday.

A final environmental review calls for the bureau to proceed with a new option that would open the maximum possible area—18.6 million acres, or 82%—of the Indiana-sized reserve to fossil fuels development.

A November draft of the plan considered a range of options, none of which were chosen as the proposed plan in the final version issued Thursday. Those options included opening about 50%, or 11.4 million acres, of the northern Alaska reserve to oil leasing.

The new proposal won’t be open to public comment before a final decision is made in about 30 days, said Stephanie Rice, the BLM’s NPR-A project manager.

The Interior Department in a statement Thursday hailed the plan to tap the NPR-A’s estimated 8.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil as a pathway to “energy dominance.”

“President Trump has committed to expand access to our Nation’s great energy potential,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in the statement. “Today’s action is one more significant step in the process of delivering on his promise.”

The Alaska Oil and Gas Association didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

Potential Animal Harm

Environmental groups excoriated the plan in statements, saying it would drop protections for sensitive wildlife habitat, contribute to climate change, and harm Native Alaskan communities.

“The agency has repeatedly downplayed the role of fossil fuel extraction in climate change, irresponsibly compounding the threats on Arctic lands already warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the planet,” according to a statement from nine environmental groups, including the Northern Alaska Environmental Center and EarthJustice.

The BLM’s plan outlines graphic potential injuries to wildlife that energy development in the region could cause. Those include polar bears killed by seismic surveying trucks and walruses trampled to death as thousands of the animals stampede when disturbed by humans.

“We’ve looked to open up some additional areas to leasing based on new information while also using management prescriptions to protect important wildlife, habitat, and subsistence uses,” BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said in a statement.

The plan to open the reserve to oil development is occurring as oil companies are retrenching and laying off workers in the wake of an oil price crash related to the coronavirus pandemic, and as scientists broadly recognize that fossil fuel consumption is driving climate change.

During the coronavirus pandemic, the Trump administration has pushed ahead with its fossil fuels-focused energy agenda, which calls for maximizing oil and gas development on federally controlled land.

(Updates throughout following release of final impact statement. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at bmagill@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Renee Schoof at rschoof@bloombergindustry.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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