Biden administration will review Trump’s plan that opened most of the NPR-A to oil development

The National Petroleum Reserve Alaska is the size of Indiana. It includes important habitat for migratory birds. It is also promising for oil development. (Bob Wick/BLM)

The Biden administration will re-examine the land use plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, with the likely effect of putting more areas off-limits to Arctic drilling.

The announcement came in a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s plan, which called for opening 80% of the NPR-A to possible oil development. That plan reversed an Obama administration decision that shielded about half of the Petroleum Reserve from drilling.

Last week, Laura Daniel-Davis, an assistant secretary with the Interior Department, directed the Bureau of Land Management to review the NPR-A management plan for compliance with President Biden’s climate goals.

The NPR-A sits to the west of Prudhoe Bay and is a bit larger than the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. 

Both tracts of federal land have seen a similar back-and-forth on policy: Democratic administrations erect barriers to drilling. Republicans take them down and clear a path for development, followed by another Democratic administration blocking that path.

RELATED: Biden administration puts Arctic refuge leases on ice as it asks for new environmental reviews

Athan Manual, the Sierra Club’s public lands program director, said the zig-zag should stop with NPR-A on its current course.

“I think what’s different about this decision now is that the Biden administration cited climate change as the reason to block or to re-examine the drilling and leasing in the National Petroleum Reserve,” he said. “And so we hope that changes the dynamic here.”

The next president, no matter the party, should recognize the reality of climate change and the need to keep more petroleum in the ground to fight it, Manual said.

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Alaska Oil and Gas Association President Kara Moriarty said the Trump plan for the NPR-A was thorough and it was finalized months ago. She said she understands Biden has other priorities.

“But those priorities shouldn’t allow an administration to go back and review a legal document,” she said, “because what kind of certainty does that send?”

She said the industry is always looking for the best technology to have the least amount of impact on the environment.

While the government’s review of the NPR-A is underway, the Bureau of Land Management won’t offer oil and gas leases in the areas recently opened for possible development.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her Read more about Lizhere.

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