New White House plan could increase oil drilling on Alaska reserve

New White House plan could increase oil drilling on Alaska reserve
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The Trump administration introduced a plan Thursday that, if approved, could allow oil drilling on more than 75 percent of the country's largest unprotected nature reserve, overturning an Obama administration ruling.

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is 23 million acres and has been labeled as the one of the most promising oil prospects in the U.S according to The Washington Post.

In 2013, the Obama administration restricted drilling to only half of the reserve, in part because the reserve is home to hundreds of thousands of migrating birds and tens of thousands of caribou. 

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But under the proposed plan by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the area of drillable land could either be slightly decreased or considerably increased. Some estimates show that the reserve could be the home to 8.7 billion barrels of undiscovered crude oil.

In one scenario, BLM would cut the amount of drilling-eligible land from 11.8 million acres to 11.4 million acres. However, BLM could significantly expand the area to either 17.1 million or 18.3 million acres.

Chad Padgett, who is the reserve's state director told the Post, "With advancements in technology and increased knowledge of the area, it was prudent to develop a new plan that provides greater economic development of our resources while still providing protections for important resources and subsistence access.” 

Naturally, wildlife advocacy groups aren't pleased with the drilling area increasing.

“The Trump administration is marching ahead with its plan for energy dominance, no matter the cost to our public lands, wildlife and people," Nicole Whittington-Evans, the Alaska program director of Defenders of Wildlife told the paper.

“Instead of protecting imperiled polar bears, ringed seals and migratory birds in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the Trump administration wants to sell their habitat off to oil companies.”

According to the Post, oil companies have been drilling on the reserve for two decades and despite the potential environmental harm of a larger drilling area, it could also mean an economic upswing for Alaska, whose economy relies greatly on oil revenue.

The Hill reached out to the White House and the Department of Energy for comment.