Last-minute White House decision opens more Arctic land to oil leasing

The decision is one of a number of pro-drilling actions taken by the Trump administration in its final days.
The decision is one of a number of pro-drilling actions taken by the Trump administration in its final days.PHOTO: REUTERS

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA (REUTERS) - US President Donald Trump's administration announced on Monday (Jan 4) it has made final its plan to open up vast areas of once-protected Arctic Alaska territory to oil development.

The US Bureau of Land Management released its plan for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), a 23 million-acre (9.2 million hectare) swath of land on the western North Slope. The record, signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt on Dec 21, allows lease sales to proceed under relaxed standards.

The decision is one of a number of pro-drilling actions taken by the Trump administration in its final days. On Wednesday, the bureau is scheduled to auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern North Slope.

The plan allows oil development on about 80 per cent of the reserve. Under Obama-era rules, about half of the reserve was available for leasing, with the other half protected for environmental and indigenous reasons.

The Trump plan allows leasing in vast Teshekpuk Lake, the largest lake in Arctic Alaska and a haven for migrating birds and wildlife. Teshekpuk Lake has been off-limits to leasing since the Reagan administration.

"We are expanding access to our nation's great energy potential and providing for economic opportunities and job creation for both Alaska Natives and our nation," said Casey Hammond, principal deputy secretary for the Department of the Interior.

It is unclear whether making this acreage available will boost Alaskan oil production, which peaked more than 30 years ago at 2 million barrels per day. The state now produces roughly 500,000 bpd of crude.

The NPR-A decision got a swift response from environmentalists who have already sued to overturn the plan.

"On its way out the door, this administration is sticking to its blunt and destructive approach to management solely for oil development," said David Krause, assistant Alaska director for The Wilderness Society, in a statement.