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Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling

Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling
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The Trump administration on Monday finalized plans to open more than 80 percent of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA) to oil drilling, pushing ahead over objections from environmentalists who have already challenged the plans in court. 

The decision from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opens more than 18 million acres to oil and gas drilling, including scaling back protected areas designed to be off-limits to development.

“This action is a significant achievement in delivering on our commitment to provide energy for America, from America,” said Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Casey Hammond. “With this decision, 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.”

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Environmentalists already sued over the plan in August, arguing BLM failed to do its due diligence in fully accounting for the impacts on wildlife. 

“This plan opens up the vast majority of the land in the reserve to drilling. It would auction off critical habitat that polar bears need to survive and vital habitat for caribou and migratory birds to oil companies. More drilling will just exacerbate the climate crisis in a region that is already experiencing warming twice as fast as anywhere on the planet. It is bad for the Western Arctic, bad for people and bad for wildlife,” Nicole Whittington-Evans, Alaska program director with Defenders of Wildlife, said in a statement.

The NPRA is right next door to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and while the lands were more specifically set aside for drilling, the area is still full of wildlife, many of which rely on so-called Special Areas within the reserve.

The option chosen by the Trump administration opens the most landmass in the reserve to drilling compared to four other options, though even the most limited plan would have opened nearly 50 percent of the NPRA to drilling. 

“The Trump administration’s BLM has put forward a new management plan designed specifically to accommodate and promote oil development, not to protect key areas utilized by the Teshekpuk Lake caribou, migratory birds or other wildlife resources, and certainly not to protect communities in the region already facing unacceptable impacts on health, food security and cultural sovereignty due to existing industry activity,” a coalition of environmental groups including Alaska Wilderness League, Earthjustice and the National Audubon Society said in a statement.

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All three members of the Alaska delegation praised the decision.

"This robust plan recognizes the purposes of the NPR-A and will restore reasonable access to one of the most promising areas on the North Slope, while also taking care to ensure adequate protection of ecologically sensitive areas,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP Utah county GOP censures Romney over Trump impeachment vote Bottom line MORE (R-Alaska) said in a statement.

“This strikes the right balance and fulfills the statutory purposes of the petroleum reserve – to produce energy for our state and country."

Updated at 6:27 p.m.