Obama Drilling Expansion In Alaska Falls Short For Some

October 2012, Vol. 67 No. 10

The Bureau of Land Management opened three million additional acres in the NPR-A to leasing in December 2011. Seventeen bids covering 140,000 acres were accepted. Then in March 2012 the Interior Department proposed to open additional tracts, offering four alternatives, from opening the entire 23 million acres to development to keeping development to the currently opened acreage. In the end, the Obama administration chose a modification of Alternative B, which opens a total of 11.8 million acres with substantial increases in areas designated as Special Areas, designation of extensive areas that would be unavailable for leasing around Teshekpuk Lake, in coastal bays and lagoons, and in the southwestern part of the Reserve with important caribou habitat and important primitive recreation values, and recommendation for designation of twelve Wild and Scenic Rivers.

The approximately 11.8 million acres makes the vast majority of projected oil resources in the NPR-A available for leasing, according to the Interior Department. That acreage is thought to hold 549 MMbbls of discovered and undiscovered economically recoverable oil and approximately 8.7 TCF of discovered and undiscovered economically recoverable natural gas.

But the American Petroleum Institute, like ConocoPhillips and other energy industry players, would have liked to have seen many more acres opened. "This decision leaves domestic energy resources, jobs and government revenue off the table," says Bill Bush, a spokesman for the API. "The public and the oil and natural gas industry continue to support U.S. energy development. The Administration continues to prevent, delay and obstruct development of important resources, and puts off jobs for another day."

Environmental groups voiced support for the DOI decision. "We support the administration's approach to conserving important ecological and subsistence areas from oil and gas development both on and offshore," says Eleanor Huffines, manager of the Pew Charitable Trust's U.S. Arctic Program. "Protecting Teshekpuk Lake, which is one of the most important goose-molting habitats in the circumpolar Arctic, as well as Kasegaluk Lagoon and other critical wildlife areas moves us toward a sustainable model for managing our natural resources in the Arctic environment."