Biden closes half of NPR-A acreage in Arctic Alaska to oil drilling

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A file photo of a site in the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. (Mark Thiessen/AP/CP)

The Bureau of Land Management announced Monday that it is ditching a Trump administration plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and instead will revert to managing the area according to a 2013 plan crafted by the Obama administration.

The move closes millions of acres in the NPR-A to potential oil drilling. The 2013 plan is especially protective of Teshekpuk Lake, a large wetlands important to shorebirds, loons and caribou.

But the BLM says the decision still leaves nearly 12 million acres available for oil and gas leasing. That’s slightly more than 50% of the NPR-A. The Trump administration had wanted closer to 80% open to drilling. There was never a lease sale under Trump’s plan.

The Biden administration indicated in January it was considering reversing the Trump-era policy, drawing outrage from Alaska’s congressional delegation.

“Sweeping restrictions like this — which are being imposed even as the Biden administration implores OPEC+ to produce more oil — demonstrate everything that is wrong with its energy policies,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a news release in January.

Environmental groups welcome decision

The NPR-A is roughly the size of Indiana and is the country’s largest unit of public land. Environmental groups prefer to call it the Western Arctic.

Several environmental groups quickly issued statements praising the decision. But the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity said the decision doesn’t go far enough because it still allows new Arctic drilling.

“Addressing the climate emergency means ending new fossil fuel extraction, and we can’t keep going in the opposite direction,” Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an emailed statement.

While the Trump administration’s plan called for allowing oil development in most of the NPR-A, it also had leasing restrictions aimed at, among other things, reducing the impact on the land surface and limiting activity during certain seasons.

The “record of decision” announced Monday employs some of those lease restrictions.

Related stories from around the North: 

CanadaFeds and Inuit gov in Atlantic Canada sign MOU to explore feasibility of new Indigenous protected area, CBC News

Greenland: Melting of Greenland glacier generating its own heat and accelerating thaw from base, says study, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Northern nations pledge to reduce black coal emissions during Arctic biodiversity talks in Finland, Yle News

Norway: Climate change is driving micro-algae blooms into High Arctic and may affect food chains, says study, Eye on the Arctic

Russia WMO confirms 38 C Arctic temperature record in Russia, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Sweden’s climate policies closer to reaching goals, Radio Sweden

United States: Inuit leaders call for “unprecedented and massive” action on climate as world leaders gather for COP26, Eye on the Arctic

Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media

For more news from Alaska visit Alaska Public Media.

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