Energy & Environment

Interior reevaluates Trump plan to open up most of Arctic oil reserve for drilling

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The Interior Department is reevaluating the Trump administration’s plan to open up 82 percent of an Arctic oil reserve to drilling. 

In a memo released as part of a court case Tuesday, Interior official Laura Daniel-Davis directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to “undertake an evaluation” of the plan and an environmental review that were completed last year regarding the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). 

Daniel-Davis, the department’s principal deputy assistant secretary for land and minerals management, also wrote that the review may prompt a new decision on how much of the reserve should be open for drilling. 

Until that time, the BLM won’t offer leases for drilling on tracts of land that were newly opened up for drilling last year. 

Daniel-Davis wrote that the department’s initial assessment indicates that the 2020 plan is “inconsistent” with a Biden executive order titled “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science To Tackle the Climate Crisis.”

But the department hasn’t yet made a final determination and thus will carry out its review. 

Daniel-Davis specifically raised concerns about opening up the “biologically sensitive” Teshekpuk Lake Special Area. Opponents of the plan have raised concerns about drilling in that area, citing its importance for wildlife.

Daniel-Davis also noted the plan’s elimination of the Colville River Special Area and said that it additionally “contains other changes that reduce environmental protections in favor of further promoting oil and gas development.”

She contrasted it with a 2013 plan from the Obama administration that opened up 52 percent of the NPR-A for drilling. 

“The Department of the Interior is committed to protecting public health, conserving land, water, and wildlife, and ensuring that management of our public lands and oceans is guided by science, equity, and community engagement,” an Interior Department spokesperson said in a statement late on Tuesday. 

“Today’s action is in accordance with President Biden’s directive to review and address agency regulations and programs that conflict with this Administration’s climate priorities,” the spokesperson added. 

Proponents of the Trump administration’s plan have argued that it would give the U.S. more access to valuable resources. 

“President Trump has committed to expand access to our Nation’s great energy potential,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said in a statement last year

The reserve itself is an approximately 23 million-acre area on the North Slope of Alaska. In 1923, it was set aside as an emergency oil reserve. 

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