ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Trump administration released a new draft plan today that could dramatically increase the federal land available for oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic Reserve. The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal includes an alternative that would turn over about 18.3 million acres to the oil industry.
Burning the recoverable oil estimated in the area could result in 1.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution, the equivalent of the emissions from nearly 300 coal plants operating for a year, according to an analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity. The proposal would also harm imperiled species, including polar bears and ice seals, already struggling to survive in a warming world.
The BLM released a new draft integrated activity plan that could open up sections of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska protected from oil leasing by the Obama administration. This includes the area around Teshekpuk Lake, which has been protected habitat for caribou herds, polar bears, millions of migratory birds and subsistence hunting for Alaska Natives.
“Handing millions of acres of protected polar bear habitat over to the oil industry is a despicable new low for the Trump administration,” said Kristen Monsell, a senior attorney at the Center. “Setting off this carbon bomb would be a tragic mistake. It’ll do immense harm to Arctic wildlife already under siege from the climate crisis. All the dirty oil in the Arctic Reserve should stay in the ground.”
BLM’s proposal considers three action alternatives but does not identify a preferred option. One alternative would increase the land available for oil leasing from 11.8 million acres to 17.1 million acres. Another would increase it to 18.3 million acres, which is 80 percent of the reserve.
Under the high development scenario, BLM estimates 250 miles of roads and 250 miles of pipeline would be built, and up to 500,000 barrels of oil produced per day.
The Trump administration has already held large lease-sales in areas of the reserve already opened to oil leasing. The Center and others groups filed a lawsuit last year to challenge those sales.
The Arctic Reserve is the largest roadless area in the United States. The protected habitat area around Teshukpuk Lake is adjacent to the Willow oil-project site being developed by ConocoPhillips, where the BLM last year began preparing a development plan and environmental analysis. The Trump administration announced its intention to redo the plan and allow expanded oil development last November.
The public has until January 21, 2020 to comment on the draft and draft environmental impact statement.