The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is seeking public comment on a draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for a plan that could unlock swaths of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) for oil and gas leasing and infrastructure.
The proposal, which the Trump administration initiated in November 2018, entails a new integrated activity plan (IAP) for the 23 million-acre NPR-A, which BLM has administered since 1976.
Under the current IAP, which was approved during the Obama administration, oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) is allowed on 11.8 million acres, or about half, of the NPR-A.
The draft EIS, for which a notice of availability was published Friday in the Federal Register, includes four alternatives with different land allocation combinations.
Alternative A maintains the status quo, with 11.8 million acres available for development, while alternative B reduces that amount to 11.4 million acres, with oil and gas activity prohibited in all special areas.
Alternative C makes a total of 17.1 million acres available, including part of the currently off-limits Teshekpuk Lake area.
Alternative D “increases the land available for leasing and new infrastructure to 18.3 million acres, allowing for the entire Teshekpuk Lake special area, as well as parts of the Utokok River Uplands special area, to be available for development,” BLM said.
The new IAP “envisions clean and safe development in the NPR-A while avoiding regulatory burdens that unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth and prevent job creation,” BLM said.
The order to initiate the plan “responded to requests from the state of Alaska and the North Slope Borough to increase opportunities for infrastructure and to help build capacity to support their aligned goals in light of recently increased activity on Alaska’s North Slope.”
BLM said the advances in technology and a 2017 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) calculating a significantly higher estimate of technically recoverable oil and gas required developing a new management strategy for the NPR-A.
The USGS estimated that the NPR-A contains technically recoverable resources of 8.7 billion bbl of oil and 25 Tcf of natural gas, in conventional accumulations within the cretaceous Nanushuk and Torok formations.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on Thursday called the initiative “a significant step toward a new plan that is more consistent with the legal purposes of the petroleum reserve, which holds the potential for billions of barrels of recoverable oil that can help refill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.”
She added, “We have recently learned a great deal about the abundant resources of the NPR-A, and updating the deeply flawed 2013 IAP to provide greater access is necessary to reflect our opportunities for responsible development.”
Fellow Alaskan Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan said the Obama administration “was dead set on locking up the NPR-A which, in turn, stunted our economy. The Department of Interior’s efforts to provide a new activity plan furthers our goal of responsible exploration and development, ensuring that Alaska’s resources help the U.S. remain an energy superpower.”
An auction conducted last December by BLM for tracts in the NPR-A attracted $1.53 billion in bids. The 60-day public comment period for the draft EIS runs through Jan. 21.