Another step was taken Thursday toward additional oil development in Alaska’s North Slope as the Bureau of Land Management announced the release of its draft environmental impact statement for the National Petroleum Reserve — Alaska.
The announcement of a new Integrated Activity Plan for the area drew celebration from Washington and ire from those concerned about environmental risks associated with development in the area.
The push to explore oil development in the 23-million acre NPR-A has been in the works for a number of years with the BLM beginning its environmental scoping process last November.
Alaska’s Republican congressional delegation praised the step forward in statements released Thursday.
“This is a significant step toward a new plan that is more consistent with the legal purposes of the petroleum reserve, which holds the potential for billions of barrels of recoverable oil that can help refill the trans-Alaska pipeline,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. “We have recently learned a great deal about the abundant resources of the NPR-A, and updating the deeply flawed 2013 IAP to provide greater access is necessary to reflect our opportunities for responsible development.”
Sen. Dan Sullivan called out the Obama administration for alleged roadblocks on the project.
“Today’s announcement is welcome progress towards evaluating how to best realize the potential of Alaska’s vast energy resources,” Sullivan said.“The previous administration was dead set on locking up the NPR-A which, in turn, stunted our economy. The Department of Interior’s efforts to provide a new activity plan furthers our goal of responsible exploration and development, ensuring that Alaska’s resources help the U.S. remain an energy superpower.”
Rep. Don Young encouraged Alaskans to share their thoughts via the upcoming public comment period.
“An updated NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan is not only good news for Alaska, but is an encouraging development for our continued push to make America truly energy independent,” Young said. “The resources available in the NPR-A are vast, and very frankly, the Obama administration’s 2013 IAP was an overly-restrictive disaster for Alaskans who know our lands can be responsibly developed.”
The BLM has put forward four different plans available for consideration.
A “no change” plan is required to be included in the list of four alternative plans. This would maintain an Obama-era ruling that limited the region to 11.8 million acres for development.
Alternative B would in fact decrease the amount of land available to develop and would designate special areas in the region unavailable.
Alternative C would increase the amount of land available to 17.1 million acres and maintain the area surround Teshekpuk Lake as unavailable.
Alternative D would increase the land available for development to 18.3 million acres and would open the entire Teshekpuk Lake and Utukok River Uplands areas for development.
In 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the area held 8.7 billion barrels of oil.
But members of environmental groups fear the effects exploration in the region could have.
“The Reserve is home to some of the richest lands and waters in Alaska, including Teshekpuk Lake and its surrounding wetlands,” said Ryan Marsh, Arctic Program coordinator for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “It is home to hundreds of species of migratory birds, caribou, polar bears, as well as the communities who have been stewards of these lands since long before they were designated a ‘petroleum reserve.’ Given all we know about the Western Arctic, and all we know about the impacts of climate change, especially in the North, it’s insulting and destructive that our government is advocating for more extraction, not less.”
Others noted the indigenous importance of the surrounding region.
“The land that the current IAP covers is traditional Inupiat land. This land was never ceded but has been fought for by the Inupiat peoples ever since it was turned into a petroleum reserve,” said Siqiniq Maupin, organizer for Native Movement. “Although the current IAP does not give the rightful management to the Inupiat people, it protects some of the lands most vital to them, and it is at the expense of Inupiat people that the BLM is eroding those protections in this current effort.”
A 60-day public comment period opens today. Those interested in commenting on the EIS can provide testimony online at on.doi.gov/37tOYLx or send written testimony to BLM, Alaska State Office, Attention — NPR-A IAP/ EIS, 222 W. Seventh Ave., No. 13, Anchorage, AK 99513-7599.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.