Biden Restricts New Oil and Gas Leasing on 13 Million Acres of Alaskan Land

‘When you take off access to our resources … this is the energy insecurity that we’re talking about,’ Rep. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said.

The Biden administration took action on Friday to restrict new oil and gas drilling on more than 13 million acres of land in the western Arctic region.

The U.S. Department of Interior announced the publication of a final rule on Friday, limiting future oil and gas leasing and industrial development in the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas. Together, these areas cover around 13.3 million acres of land in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPR-A).

The Interior Department said these areas of Alaska are known for significant globally significant wildlife habitats, including those of grizzly and polar bears, caribou, and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds.

“Alaska’s majestic and rugged lands and waters are among the most remarkable and healthy landscapes in the world, sustaining a vibrant subsistence economy for Alaska Native communities,” President Joe Biden said Friday. “These natural wonders demand our protection. I am proud that my Administration is taking action to conserve more than 13 million acres in the Western Arctic and to honor the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on and stewarded these lands since time immemorial.”
The new rule doesn’t necessarily change the terms for existing leases in the NPR-A or affect currently authorized operations. Instead, the rule specifies these areas are generally closed to new leasing and infrastructure projects.

The rule provides exceptions, including allowing the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to permit new leasing and infrastructure in cases where an existing well may be draining an otherwise restricted Federal or Indian oil or gas resource. Another exception allows BLM to approve new roads, pipelines, and transmission lines if they deem these projects will benefit local communities and include measures that assure maximum resource protection. BLM may also allow for new infrastructure if they deem it “essential for exploration or development activities” and “no practicable alternatives exist” that would have less adverse impacts on the local environment.

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Today’s historic actions to protect lands and waters in the western Arctic will ensure continued subsistence use by Alaska Native communities while conserving these special places for future generations,” said John Podesta, the Senior Advisor to the President for International Climate Policy.

With this latest rule announcement, Mr. Podesta credited the Biden administration with extending protections over 41 million acres of lands and waterways across the United States in his presidency, “leaving a huge mark on the history of American conservation.”

New Rule Follows Contentious Willow Project Approval

The new restrictions on oil and gas extraction operations in the NPR-A come just over a year after the Biden administration approved a scaled-back version of a new drilling operation, proposed by ConocoPhillips, dubbed the Willow Project.

ConocoPhillips had acquired the leases for the Willow Project in the 1990s and had sought for years to begin drilling. In their scaled-back approval, the Biden administration allowed three of the five proposed drilling pads to proceed, while ConocoPhillips relinquished 68,000 acres of its NPR-A leases and abandoned infrastructure development plans for the two canceled drilling pads that would have included 11 miles of roads, 20 miles of pipelines, and 133 acres of gravel.

The decision to approve the scaled-back Willow Project drew criticism from environmental activists.

Abbie Dillen, president of environmental group Earthjustice, said the Willow Project’s approval “hands over one the most fragile, intact ecosystems in the world to ConocoPhillips.”

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass) called the Biden administration’s decision an “environmental injustice” that “leaves an oil stain on the administration’s climate accomplishments and the president’s commitment not to permit new oil and gas drilling on federal land.”

Though this new rule does not reverse the earlier decision to approve the Willow Project, environmental groups applauded the latest move.

“We applaud the Biden Administration for this important step to increase protections for 13 million acres of the Western Arctic to safeguard the irreplaceable ecosystems and wildlife found there,” Ms. Dillen said Friday.

Earthjustice still said more action is needed “to ensure that the oil industry does not cause further damage to the Reserve.” In a Friday press statement, the group noted ongoing litigation challenging the Willow Project’s approval.

“For more than a year, millions of people called on President Biden and his administration to stop the extraction on these lands – extraction that every year drives us closer to climate catastrophe,” Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous said of the new rule. “Thankfully, the Biden administration listened.”

The new limits on oil and gas leasing in the NPR-A come a week after the Interior Department announced it had raised fees associated with operating oil and gas leases throughout the country.

Alaska Senators Rebuke New Ruling

A group of Republican lawmakers, led by Alaska Sens. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, spoke out on Thursday evening ahead of Friday’s announcement. The lawmakers accused the Biden administration of hindering U.S. energy independence and making the United States more reliant on oil from adversary countries like Russia, Iran, and Venezuela.

“When you take off access to our resources, when you say you cannot drill, you cannot produce, you cannot explore, you cannot move it—this is the energy insecurity that we’re talking about,” Ms. Murskowski said.

Mr. Sullivan called the new decision a “clearly illegal” attack on Alaska’s economic engine. Mr. Sullivan also challenged assertions coming through the Biden administration that the new actions were being taken with Alaskan Native communities in mind.

“Joe Biden is lying. The elected Alaska Native leaders who live in the area vehemently oppose this rule on NPR-A,” Mr. Sullivan said in a Friday social media post.

The American Exploration & Production Council (AXPC), a trade association for the oil and natural gas exploration and production industry, also condemned the new rules.

“AXPC companies support and encourage proper land management and conservation, but this latest rule is inconsistent with and outside the bounds of BLM’s statutory authority, and is part of the Biden administration’s playbook to restrict American energy production,” AXPC CEO Anne Bradbury said Friday.

Ms. Bradbury argued the new rule oversteps the authority given to the BLM under the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and the Mineral Leasing Act, and said AXPC is evaluating its next possible steps to challenge the rule.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Original News Source Link – Epoch Times

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