US tightens rules on oil and gas leasing in Alaska reservation | The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

JUNIAU, Alaska — The Biden administration said Friday it will restrict the leasing of new oil and gas on 13 million acres of a federal petroleum reserve in Alaska to help protect wildlife.

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 roiled 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’re 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 denial of a state-owned company’s application regarding a proposed 340-kilometer road in the northwestern part of the state to allow the mining of critical mineral deposits including copper, cobalt, zinc, silver and gold. There are no mining proposals or exploitation mines in the area, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has 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 locking up our own minerals in America, as long as the far-left radicals he believes are the key to his re-election are satisfied,” Sullivan said Thursday on Capitol News. conference with ten other Republican 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 critically important 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.

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 intended 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 leadership in energy, this is yet another step in the wrong direction,” said Dustin Meyer, senior vice president at the institute.

The petroleum reserve, about 100 miles 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 Navy, but has been under the supervision of the Ministry 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.

The rules announced Friday would place restrictions on future leasing and industrial development in areas designated as special for their wildlife, livelihoods or other values ​​and call for the agency to regularly review whether to designate new special areas or extend protections in those areas need to be strengthened. The agency cited the Arctic’s rapidly changing climate, including melting permafrost and changes to plant life and wildlife corridors, as the reason.