The Biden administration is restricting oil and gas leasing across 13 million acres of oil reserves in Alaska

JUNIAU, Alaska — The Biden administration said Friday it will limit leasing of new oil and gas on 13 million acres of a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska to help protect wildlife such as caribou and polar bears while the Arctic continues to warm.

The decision — part of a yearslong battle over whether and how to develop the state’s vast oil reserves — completes protections first proposed last year as the Democratic administration prepared to approve the controversial Willow oil project approve.

Willow’s approval drew ire from environmentalists, who said the big oil project conflicted with President Joe Biden’s pledge to fight climate change. Friday’s decision also completes an earlier plan that called for closing nearly half of the reserve to oil and gas leasing.

A group of Republican lawmakers, led by U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska, jumped ahead of Friday’s announcement about the new restrictions in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve before it was publicly announced. Sullivan called it an “illegal” attack on the state’s economic lifeline and predicted lawsuits.

“It’s more than a one-two punch for Alaska,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, “because if you deny access to our resources, if you say you can’t drill, you can’t produce, you can’t explore and you can’t move it. – this is the energy insecurity we are talking about.”

The Home Office’s decision does not change the terms of existing leases on the reserve and does not affect currently permitted activities, including Willow.

The Biden administration on Friday also recommended the rejection of a state-owned company’s application regarding a proposed 338-kilometer road in the northwestern part of the state to enable the mining of critical mineral deposits including copper, cobalt, zinc, silver and gold. There are no mining proposals or current mines in the area, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management determined that the road construction alternatives analyzed “would have a significant and irreversible impact on resources,” the agency said in a statement. A final decision on the advice is still pending. Brian Ridley, head of the Tanana Chiefs Conference, an Alaska-based nonprofit, said the administration’s “choice to reject the Ambler Road Project is a monumental step forward in the fight for Indigenous rights and environmental justice.” The tribes of the Tanana Chiefs Conference had raised concerns that a road would harm their communities, land and wildlife.

Sullivan accused the administration of undermining U.S. national security interests with both decisions. Alaska’s political leaders have long accused the government of hurting the state with decisions that limit development of oil and gas, minerals and timber.

“Joe Biden is okay with our adversaries producing energy and dominating the world’s crucial minerals while cutting off ours in America, as long as the far-left radicals he believes are key to his reelection are satisfied,” Sullivan said Thursday on Capitol News. conference with 10 other GOP senators. “What a dangerous world this president has created.”

Biden defended his decision on the oil reserve.

Alaska’s “majestic and rugged lands and waters are among the most remarkable and healthy landscapes in the world,” are critical to Alaska Native communities and “demand our protection,” he said in a statement.

Nagruk Harcharek, president of Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat, a group whose members include leaders from much of Alaska’s North Slope region, said in a statement that the decision “does not reflect the wishes of our communities.”

The group’s board of directors previously passed a resolution opposing the government’s plans for the reserve, and Harcharek expressed frustration that local leaders had not been consulted before the details of the government’s proposal were finalized September were released.

“From our perspective, what you’re essentially doing is reducing the economic potential to a point where we don’t know what to do anymore,” he said in an interview about Friday’s announcement. “There are a lot of unknown factors involved.”

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s main lobbying group, called the rule “misguided” and said it sharply limits future oil and natural gas development in the Petroleum Reserve, “a region expressly designated by Congress to enhance U.S. energy security strengthen’ and generate income. for communities in Alaska.

“At a time when the world is looking for American energy leadership, this is another step in the wrong direction,” said Dustin Meyer, senior vice president of API.

The petroleum reserve, about 100 miles (161 kilometers) west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is home to caribou and polar bears and provides habitat for millions of migratory birds. It was set aside about a century ago as an emergency oil source for the U.S. Navy, but has been under the supervision of the Department of the Interior since the 1970s. There has long been a debate about where oil and gas development should take place.

Most of the existing leases in the Petroleum Reserve are clustered in an area deemed to have high development potential by the Bureau of Land Management, which falls under the Department of the Interior. Development potential in other parts of the reserve is lower, the agency said.