Interior will remove millions of acres from potential oil development in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve

The Biden administration said Monday it would roll back a Trump-era land use plan for Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve, removing about 7 million acres from possible development while keeping about 12 million acres on the table.

The decision, made by a senior Interior Department official, creates a land-use plan that will be managed in accordance with the 2013 Obama-era plan for the 23 million-acre reservation on the northern slope of Alaska, the agency said in a statement. .

It will also include more industry regulations, such as “more protective lease stipulations and operating procedures,” to protect threatened and endangered species from any development, according to a statement from the agency.

The 91 pages decision was signed by Laura Daniel-Davis, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior Lands and Minerals Management Section.

Monday’s announcement came the day after Interior Secretary Deb Haaland left for Alaska after a week-long trip to the state. But plans have been in the works since January 2021.

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The eastern section of the reserve includes land containing a major new oil prospect owned by ConocoPhillips that has been delayed following a lawsuit by conservation groups, called the Willow Prospect. The Biden administration had backed the project in court.

The new land use plan was quickly condemned by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, for eliminating the potential for projects that could support Alaska’s economy.

Sullivan said in an interview on Monday it showed Haaland had shown “fake” interest as she heard directly from North Slope executives last week who said they did not support more restrictions in the plan, although the Home Office clearly had that decision pending.

Sullivan said it also contradicts President Joe Biden’s efforts to lower gas prices because it takes federal lands off the table for possible oil exploration.

“The president is not leveling up with the American people, and Deb Haaland certainly was not leveling up with the people of Alaska,” Sullivan said.

Republican Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, returning to Washington, DC, after spending part of the past week in Alaska with Haaland, did not immediately issue a statement.

Conservation groups hailed the move as a step in the right direction to tackle climate change.

They said it restores protections in some areas, like Teshekpuk Lake, a wetland that is home to loons, eider ducks and the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd.

“Predictably, world events have led industry lobbyists and the legislators they fund to call for new domestic oil and gas leases and production, particularly in Arctic Alaska, and the name of ‘energy security,'” Kristen Miller, conservation director for the Alaska Wilderness League, said in a statement. “In reality, the answer to energy security lies not beneath thawing Arctic permafrost, but in accelerating the shift to clean, renewable sources of energy generation.”

An environmental group said the Biden administration’s decision did not go far enough because it still allowed oil development to continue on the reservation.

“Addressing the climate emergency means ending the extraction of new fossil fuels, and we cannot continue in the opposite direction,” said Kristen Monsell of the Center for Biological Diversity.

Betty K. Park