Sixty-six House lawmakers asked Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne Friday to table plans for a tentatively scheduled September oil and gas lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA) around the environmentally sensitive Teshekpuk Lake area.

“Industry already has access to 87% of the [northeast] area of the Reserve, and providing them access to the remainder jeopardizes caribou and waterfowl populations and subsistence resources to one of the most important wetland complexes in the Arctic,” the coalition of lawmakers wrote in an Aug. 4 letter to Kempthorne.

The Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976 provides “maximum protection” to the wetlands, wildlife and fish in or near the lake, which is located west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “The thirty years of formal protection for these sensitive resources were put aside by Interior in its recent decision to proceed with a lease sale in this area,” they said.

In January, Interior announced plans to open 390,000 additional acres in the 4.6 million-acre northeast corner of the NPRA this year. The available acres, which had been withheld from leasing previously due to environmental and wildlife sensitivities, include areas north of Teshekpuk Lake to the Beaufort Sea in northern Alaska. Interior has deferred leasing in the area south of Teshekpuk (211,000 acres).

This action by Interior fulfills a 2002 recommendation by President Bush in his national energy policy for Interior to consider “additional environmentally responsible oil and gas development” in the NPRA.

Interior’s action would make a total of 4.39 million acres, or 95% of the northeastern section of the NPRA planning area, available for oil and gas leasing. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that federal lands in the entire NPRA, which span 23 million acres, hold approximately 60 Tcf of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas reserves, and 9.3 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil reserves. Gas production, however, is constrained due to the lack of pipeline infrastructure.

Interior believes that the northeast corner of the NPRA contains enough oil and gas resources to help stem the production decline from the maturing fields in the North Slope.

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