Biden to Block Oil Drilling on Millions of Acres of Arctic Alaska

President Biden moved Wednesday to block oil drilling across vast swathes of Alaska’s North Slope, proposing to limit development and cancel leases in the iconic Arctic National Wildlife Refuge granted under President Donald Trump.

The Biden administration plans to permanently ban oil and gas development on 10.6 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve—Alaska. The project covers more than 40 percent of the reserve, which is home to sensitive Arctic wildlife, including caribou and shorebirds. The Biden administration first suggested the idea earlier this year to address concerns about approving the Willow project, a major oil development in the region.

In a separate move, Interior Secretary Deb Holland is canceling all seven outstanding leases the Trump administration had awarded for oil exploration in the state’s northeastern corner of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. For decades, drilling was prohibited in the refuge, one of the nation’s most scenic areas, until Congress ordered the sale of reserve leases in 2017. As a candidate, Biden promised to undo those sales as part of his sweeping climate agenda.

In a statement, Biden said the state is full of “breathtaking natural wonders” that need protection.

“With the climate crisis warming the Arctic twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for people of all ages,” Biden said.

Chris Wood, president of the conservation group Trout Unlimited, said that while the measures will do nothing to stop current willow growth — a key target of climate activists — it will ensure long-term protection for areas that provide important wildlife habitat. He estimates that the federal government has not set aside many acres of land for conservation since the early 2000s when the federal forest protection rules were enacted.

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“Conservation is a very long game and takes decades,” Wood said. “These big stroke opportunities are rare. So it’s great and heartening to see the administration taking a bit of a bolder line to protect our lands and waters.

Alaskan oil has become a politically thorny issue in Biden’s efforts to implement aggressive measures to combat climate change. Oil advocates and industry analysts have said parts of NPR-A are among the richest oil reserves in the country, and Alaskan lawmakers have pushed development as a major source of jobs and revenue. But Biden took office and said, “No more drilling on federal lands, period. Time, time, time.”

Under intense political pressure, Biden in March approved Willow, a multibillion-dollar drilling project from ConocoPhillips. He said he was forced because the company had a legal lease for the area before the presidency.

But he announced that decision for another 13 million acres, with a plan to give Congressional-authorized status “maximum protection.” Wednesday’s move makes that plan an official proposal, including environmental mitigation requirements on 2.4 million acres where oil leasing can still take place and a ban on oil and gas leasing for the rest.

The proposal calls for reviews and public consultation every five years on whether to expand or designate new special areas for conservation in the reserve. The Bureau of Land Management will hold public meetings on the proposal and receive public comments for 60 days before making a final rule.

“We know that some of these places are irreplaceable treasures,” Hollande told reporters. “Climate change is the crisis of our lifetime. … We must do everything in our control to maintain and protect this fragile ecosystem.

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NPR-A, roughly the size of Indiana, was officially designated for oil and gas development in 1976 by the Naval Petroleum Reserve Production Act. The Act made special provisions for oil and gas extraction and set aside certain areas for “maximum protection”. environment.

Today, the region is a significant reserve for domestic oil supplies, but is increasingly valued as Arctic wilderness, providing important habitat for polar bears, migratory caribou and waterfowl.

Climate activists and many environmentalists were dismayed on March 13. when The Biden administration approved the Willow project, which federal officials say could produce 576 million barrels of oil over 30 years.

ConocoPhillips has leased oil from the Willow project since the late 1990s. After nearly five years of permitting and legal battles, the Biden administration approved the plan Three drilling platforms with a total of 199 wells. ConocoPhillips narrowed the project from the five pads it originally proposed, following recommendations from a government review to block development from yellow-billed loon nesting sites and caribou migration routes.

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