Story at a glance
- The Trump Administration made more land available for oil and gas companies to drill.
- President-elect Joe Biden says he plans on stopping any drilling efforts despite previous leases.
In the final days of his presidency, the Trump administration announced that 18.6 million acres of land along the northern coastline of Alaska are available for oil and gas drilling.
Officials at the U.S. Department of the Interior confirmed that the move is part of the new Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) for drilling for petroleum in Alaska, which intends to protect natural resources and flora and fauna despite offering to lease the land to oil and gas companies.
“We developed a plan that is responsive to state and local government requests and needs,” said Bureau of Land Management Alaska State Director Chad Padgett in a press release. “Our team of subject matter experts worked diligently to provide a robust environmental review that achieves a balance between conservation stewardship, being a good neighbor, and responsibly developing our natural resources to boost local and national economies.”
Increases in the amount of land available for drilling follows Trump’s major push to sell oil rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas companies, and auctions are set to begin Wednesday. That wildlife sanctuary was formally protected in the 1960s under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The new area specifically open to drilling includes the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area in the National Petroleum Reserve in northwestern Alaska, home to species like caribou and migratory birds.
Federal estimates note that approximately 8.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lie within the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
While advocates for the drilling initiatives praise the plan as helping the U.S. become energy-independent from other nations, environmental activists say the move is detrimental to the Alaskan environment.
"The area around Teshekpuk is probably one of the most vulnerable wetland complexes in the world,” David Krause, assistant state director in Alaska for the Wilderness Society, told The Washington Post. “When you allow infrastructure into this very vulnerable area, you start to see changes.”
Krause specifically noted that the arrival and implementation of drilling infrastructure stands to damage the ecosystem and its inhabitants.
As President-elect Joe Biden plans to be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, however, the terms to these leases could change. One of Biden's major campaign promises included halting all drilling on public lands and waters as part of a broader climate change plan.