News-Miner opinion: It’s taken 2 ½ years, but an Obama-era activity plan that severely limited oil development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska appears on the way out under the Trump administration.
That’s good news indeed.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in late November released a draft environmental impact statement on a new integrated activity plan for the petroleum reserve. The pro-development plan, which is out for a 60-day public comment period that started Monday, is a stark contrast to the 2013 Obama administration plan that placed about half of the 22.8-million-acre North Slope petroleum reserve off-limits to leasing.
The revised activity plan stems from an order signed by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke during his May 2017 visit to Alaska. His order called for a review of the Obama plan so as to provide “for clean and safe development of our nation’s vast energy resources, while at the same time avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, and prevent job creation.
“The prudent development of these natural resources in Alaska and beyond is essential to ensuring the nation’s geopolitical security.”
Let’s remember this important fact: We are talking about a petroleum reserve. It is a reserve because it contains oil. A lot of it.
President Warren Harding established the reserve in 1923 as a petroleum source for the Navy. The reserve, first known as Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4, was transferred to the BLM in 1976.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2017 that the NPRA holds a mean estimate of 8.7 billion barrels of oil and a mean estimate of 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Prudhoe Bay, for comparison, was estimated to hold 25 billion barrels of oil when production started in 1977.
NPRA, located to the west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is large and rich with potential. Now we have an administration in Washington ready to let it happen.
The draft environmental impact statement includes four options, one of which is to just leave things as they are now. Of the other, one would actually decrease the acreage available for development and two would increase the leasable acreage.
Alternative B decreases the land available for leasing and new infrastructure to 11.4 million acres and designates all special areas as unavailable.
Alternative C increases the land available for leasing and new infrastructure to 17.1 million acres and keeps a core area around Teshekpuk Lake as unavailable.
Alternative D increases the land available for leasing and new infrastructure to 18.3 million acres and makes the entire Teshekpuk Lake Special Area and parts of the Utukok River Uplands special area available for development.
Inclusion of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, created by the Department of the Interior, is certain to bring opposition. Protection of the Teshekpuk Lake area is understandable, however, given its long-recognized importance to waterfowl and other wildlife.
The lake is the largest in northern Alaska, the third largest lake in the state, and might be the largest thermokarst lake on Earth, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Obama administration’s 2013 management plan doubled the size of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.
In other areas of the NPRA, oil development is underway. ConocoPhillips has reported promising work with its Willow discovery. It made discoveries in three additional prospects last year also.
We need more news like that.
It’s clear that the nation needs Alaska’s oil. A favorable administration in Washington has taken another major step to make that happen by moving ahead with a new plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.