Energy & Environment

Trump administration wants to open up 82 percent of Alaska reserve for drilling

The Trump administration wants to open up 82 percent of an Alaska reserve for oil and gas leasing, it announced on Thursday. 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) unveiled its plan for oil and gas leasing at the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

The plan would allow for 18.7 million acres of the approximately 23 million acre area to be leased to oil and gas companies.

This is significantly greater than the 11.8 million acres of the reserve that are open for oil and gas leases. 

It would open to drilling all of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which is currently protected and is home to a variety of animals like caribou and migratory birds. 

Proponents of the plan said that this would give the U.S. more access to valuable resources, while opponents expressed concern about its environmental impacts. 

“President Trump has committed to expand access to our Nation’s great energy potential,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement. “Today’s action is one more significant step in the process of delivering on his promise.”

Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Hill that she believes the plan is “incredibly reckless and short-sighted.”

“It’s taking us in the exact wrong direction, which would spell more disaster for our climate and communities and species that are already feeling the effects of climate change,” Monsell said. 

An environmental impact assessment included in the plan said it would result in 12.4 million to 51.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions over a 20-year period.

By contrast, keeping the status quo would result in 6.3 million to 26.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gas emissions over the same period. 

A draft plan released late last year did not include the proposal the administration eventually landed upon. Under that draft, a maximum of 18.3 million acres would have been opened to drilling.

Monesll faulted a lack of transparency and public comment.

The National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska was first set aside by then-President Warren G. Harding in 1923 as an emergency oil supply for the Navy. 

Thursday’s plan was praised by lawmakers from Alaska, who have advocated for development in the region. 

“I thank Secretary Bernhardt and his team for restoring reasonable access to the Reserve while ensuring adequate protection of ecologically sensitive areas,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement.

Environmentalists raised concerns about the quantity of land being made available. 

“Once again, we’re seeing that the Trump administration is moving forward to sell out key habitat to the oil industry,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans, the Alaska program director at Defenders of Wildlife.

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