Interior Department approves management plan that restricts oil, gas leasing areas of the NPR-A

The Department of Interior signed a new record of decision guiding management of the NPR-A, closing off almost half of the 23-million acre area to oil and gas.
Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 4:57 PM AKDT|Updated: Apr. 26, 2022 at 9:47 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The Department of Interior has signed a new record of decision guiding the management of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, reverting that management to a previous plan and closing off almost half of the 23-million acre area from oil and gas development.

President Joe Biden’s administration had announced back in January that it was planning to use an oil and gas leasing management plan for the NPR-A that would close off about half the reserve to development. The Interior Department’s move on Monday means that management of the reserve will revert back to an 2013 plan, called an Integrated Activity Plan, used by President Barack Obama’s administration.

The previous administration under President Donald Trump had moved to open about 82% of the reserve to oil and gas leasing.

“Today’s decision ensures the NPR-A will be managed consistent with the 2013 IAP, while including certain more protective lease stipulations and operating procedures for threatened and endangered species,” said a press release from the Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management.

“Under this Decision, approximately 11.8 million acres (52 percent) of the NPR-A’s subsurface estate are available for oil and gas leasing,” according to the decision.

When the Biden administration announced its move to use what’s known as the “no action alternative” from the NPR-A’s 2020 Integrated Activity Plan, Alaska’s congressional delegation strongly opposed it. Sen. Dan Sullivan at the time called the move “arbitrary and contrary to good science,” and Sen. Lisa Murkowski said it demonstrated “everything that is wrong with (the administration’s) energy policies.”

In a press release Tuesday morning, Murkowski and Sullivan criticized the move, saying it “abandons the 2020 version” of the Integrated Activity Plan just weeks after President Biden “pledged” to lower gas prices.

“This was the wrong decision when it was announced in January, and it is only worse today,” Murkowski said. “We need more domestic resource development, and areas explicitly designated for that purpose should be at the top of the list, not on the chopping block. It is simply shocking that the Biden administration can look at the world, and decide that Alaska is where ‘keep it in the ground’ should apply.

“This decision also flies in the face of many of the Alaska Natives who live on the North Slope, who participated in the 2020 plan update and who supported its finalization. The administration is choosing to ignore them, while giving outside environmental groups everything they want.”

Sullivan pointed to the 23 million acres of land in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve as available for oil development.

“I have long urged the President to cut the gimmicks and tap this true ‘strategic petroleum reserve,’ which is teeming with reserves ready to alleviate some of our nation’s dire energy needs. But yesterday, President Biden doubled down on his failed policies, removing half of this federally-established oil and gas reserve from consideration and—even more reckless—specifically removing areas with the greatest potential for actual production,” Sullivan said. “This decision will prolong the pain for hard-working Americans and tighten Vladimir Putin’s grip over our allies. Needless to say, President Biden is not doing everything in his power to control prices at the pump or relieve average Americans’ pain. We now know, record inflation, unprecedented gas prices, and a despot wielding vast sums of the world’s petroleum supply will not deter Joe Biden in his relentless war on American energy production.”

Environmental groups on Monday applauded the Interior Department’s announcement of the new record of decision and the return to the 2013 management plan for the reserve. Management of the reserve has long been contentious, and some environmental concerns have centered around potential impacts to nesting bird populations and migrating caribou.

“The previous administration’s move to open more than 82% of the Reserve to oil and gas leasing failed to address the realities of the climate crisis or impacts to the region’s significant wildlife and wilderness values,” said Alaska Wilderness League Conservation Director Kristen Miller in a prepared statement. “Returning to the 2013 management plan is the right move in the near term and will restore protections to critical areas like Teshekpuk Lake.”

Kristen Monsell, senior attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Monday’s announcement didn’t go far enough.

“At a time when we desperately need to end Arctic oil leasing, this just isn’t enough,” Monsell said in an email. “Addressing the climate emergency means ending new fossil fuel extraction, and we can’t keep going in the opposite direction.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional information.

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