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Biden Administration Moves to Block Oil Drilling on Millions of Acres of Alaskan Wilderness – WSJ

  • Proposal would prohibit new leasing on more than 40% of state’s National Petroleum Reserve
A section of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System near Delta Junction, Alaska. Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images
A section of the Trans Alaska Pipeline System near Delta Junction, Alaska. (Mario Tama/Getty)

Talal Ansari, WSJ

EnergiesNet.com 09 07 2023

The Biden administration moved to ban oil drilling in a swath of Alaskan wilderness, including canceling all remaining oil and gas leases issued in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge under the previous administration. 

Polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: JIM LO SCALZO/EPA/Shutterstock
Polar bears in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Shutterstock)

The announcement Wednesday comes after the Biden administration approved the Willow oil-drilling project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve earlier this year over the objections of many Democrats and environmentalists.  

The Interior Department’s proposed regulation would bar new oil or gas leasing on 10.6 million acres, or more than 40%, of the National Petroleum Reserve. The reserve is a 23-million acre area managed by the department. 

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said she also authorized the cancellation of seven oil and gas leases issued by the Trump administration in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The leases had been suspended in 2021.

“As the climate crisis warms the Arctic more than twice as fast as the rest of the world, we have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages,” President Biden said in a statement Wednesday.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R., AK) criticized the decision, suggesting it was driven by politics rather than sound policy. 

“It just kind of sends a signal that when it comes to Alaska, it depends on the whim of an administration,” Murkowski said. “But that’s not coherent, in my view.”

Politicians in Washington have been looking for a way forward on energy policy as they grapple with concerns over overseas threats, high prices and climate change. While the Biden administration has tried to strike a balance on oil drilling, Republicans have consistently pushed for increased energy production. 

A GOP-authored bill that passed the House in March would boost oil and gas production and accelerate new projects by streamlining environmental reviews, though it isn’t expected to move forward in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Republican 2024 presidential hopefuls have made the same case for expediting production. “This isn’t that complicated, guys, unlock American energy, drill, frack, burn coal and embrace nuclear,” entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy said at last month’s GOP primary debate in Milwaukee. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would “open up all energy production.”

The approval of the Willow project earlier this year allowed Houston-based to go ahead with the roughly $7 billion project in the National Petroleum Reserve. At its peak, the company expects to produce 180,000 barrels of oil a day there.  

The new actions by the Biden administration don’t impact the Willow project, which won the support of the oil-and-gas industry and Alaska’s congressional delegation, as well as many Alaskan natives.

The reserve was originally established in 1923 for the U.S. Navy, and was later transferred to the Interior Department in 1976. The isolated region in northwest Alaska is home to caribou, polar bears and walruses. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while similar in size at about 19 million acres, is in northeast Alaska and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. About the size of South Carolina, the refuge has no roads and was established in 1960.

Following the new rule proposed for the reserve Wednesday, there will be a 60-day public comment period. A draft of a supplemental environmental impact statement related to the canceled leases will also be available for public comment.

Lindsay Wise contributed to this article.

wsj.com 09 06 2023

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