Biden to Block Oil Drilling on Millions of Acres of Arctic Alaska

President Biden on Wednesday moved to protect more than 10 million acres of Alaska’s North Slope from development by revoking leases on the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge awarded under President Donald Trump, banning oil drilling on the giant lands.

The conservation drive covers nearly half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), the nation’s largest public land that hosts many sensitive Arctic wildlife. That would put a permanent ban on oil and gas development on the 10.6 million-acre site, but won’t stop ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, which Biden approved earlier this year is poised to produce 576 million barrels of oil over the next three decades.

In a separate move, Interior Secretary Deb Holland is canceling all seven outstanding leases the Trump administration had awarded for oil exploration in the state’s northeastern corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Until Congress ordered the sale of the lease in 2017, drilling was prohibited in the refuge, one of the nation’s most scenic areas, for decades. As a candidate, Biden promised. to cancel those leases As part of his broader climate agenda.

In a statement, Biden said the state is full of “breathtaking natural wonders” that need protection.

“With the climate crisis warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for people of all ages,” Biden said.

Chris Wood, president of conservation group Trout Unlimited, said the measures would do nothing to stop willow growth — a key target of climate activists — and ensure long-term protection for areas that provide vital wildlife habitat. He estimated that since the early 2000s, the central government has not set aside many acres of land for conservation.

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“Conservation is a very long game and will take decades,” Wood said. “These big stroke opportunities are rare. So it’s great and heartening to see the administration taking a bit of a bolder line to protect our lands and waters.

Alaskan oil is complicated Biden’s effort to implement aggressive measures to combat climate change. Oil advocates and industry analysts have said parts of NPR-A are among the richest oil reserves in the country, and Alaskan lawmakers have pushed development as a major source of jobs and revenue. But Biden took office and said, “No more drilling on federal lands, period. Time, time, time.”

Cara Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, said in an email that the new Biden policies would make the U.S. more reliant on foreign oil, which could generate more planet-warming emissions than oil extracted in Alaska.

“The constant barrage of government regulatory changes and whiplash is telling investors that Alaska is not the place to do business,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense because Alaska has the highest environmental standards and the lowest emissions in the country.”

In March, Biden endorsed Willow under intense political pressure. He said he was forced because the company had a legal lease for the area before the presidency.

But he announced that decision for another 13 million acres, with a plan to give Congressional-authorized status “maximum protection.” Wednesday’s move makes that plan an official proposal, including environmental mitigation requirements on 2.4 million acres where oil leasing can still take place and a ban on oil and gas leasing for the rest.

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The proposal calls for reviews and public consultation every five years on whether to expand or designate new special areas for conservation in the reserve. The Bureau of Land Management will hold public meetings on the proposal and receive public comments for 60 days before making a final rule.

“We know that some of these places are irreplaceable treasures,” Hollande told reporters. “Climate change is the crisis of our lifetime. … We must do everything in our control to maintain and protect this fragile ecosystem.

Regarding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Holland said the lease sale under Trump was flawed “based on a number of fundamental, legal flaws.” Administration officials said the Bureau of Land Management under Biden and the Fish and Wildlife Service produced a new analysis to support that decision.

Administration officials said Trump officials failed to meet requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act to analyze alternatives or measure greenhouse gas emissions from the development. That led Holland to cancel the lease, administration officials said.

But Moriarty called the decision arbitrary, and Alaskan political leaders are likely to oppose Interior’s legal reasoning. Sen. Many, including Lisa Murkowski (R), have fought for decades to open up part of the region’s coastal plain to drilling, and as part of the 2017 tax law overhaul inserted requirements to lease oil rights in the area. Local officials who support drilling have tried to undo federal violations of Biden’s leases.

At the same time, oil companies have also lost interest in the refuge in recent years and are increasingly interested in NPR-A. Regenerate Alaska, a unit of an Australian company, is the only oil company to directly own a portion of the refuge’s nearly 1.6 million acres of coastal plain, and it voluntarily canceled its lease in 2022 after two major oil companies, Chevron and Hilcorp. , had also rejected their claims.

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NPR-A, roughly the size of Indiana, was officially designated for oil and gas development in 1976 by the Naval Petroleum Reserve Production Act. The Act made special provisions for oil and gas extraction and set aside certain areas for “maximum protection”. environment.

Today, the region is a significant reserve for domestic oil supplies, but is increasingly valued as Arctic wilderness, providing important habitat for polar bears, migratory caribou and waterfowl.

Climate activists and many environmentalists were dismayed on March 13. when The Biden administration approved the Willow project, which federal officials say could produce 576 million barrels of oil over 30 years.

ConocoPhillips has leased oil from the Willow project since the late 1990s. After nearly five years of permitting and legal battles, the Biden administration approved the plan Three drilling platforms with a total of 199 wells. It shrunk the plan from five pads originally proposed by ConocoPhillips, following recommendations from a government review to block development from yellow-billed loon nesting sites and caribou migration routes.

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