The Pew Environment Group issued the following statement today applauding Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s announcement of a plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), located on Alaska’s North Slope.
“The secretary’s proposed action is an important step in the right direction for all Americans, including Alaska Natives, sportsmen, and other conservationists who want to balance energy exploration with wildlife protection in Alaska’s spectacular western Arctic,” said Ken Rait, director of Pew’s Western Lands Initiative. “This proposal would make millions of acres available for oil and gas leasing, while preserving irreplaceable habitat for the western Arctic caribou herd in the Utukok Uplands and other wildlife areas.”
“We support the administration’s approach to conserving important ecological and subsistence areas from oil and gas development both on and off shore,” said Eleanor Huffines, manager of Pew’s U.S. Arctic Program. “Protecting Teshekpuk Lake, which is one of the most important goose-molting habitats in the circumpolar Arctic, as well as Kasegaluk Lagoon and other critical wildlife areas moves us toward a sustainable model for managing our natural resources in the Arctic environment.”
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Background on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska
Lying west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and roughly the size of Indiana, the nearly 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) supports a stunning diversity and abundance of wildlife. The Reserve is home to caribou herds, grizzly bears, wolves, and dense populations of peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and other nesting raptors. Offshore and along coastal areas are important habitats for seals, beluga whales, and polar bears. Rare yellow-billed loons, spectacled eiders, and millions of other migratory birds from the Pacific, Central, Mississippi, and Atlantic Flyways and from as far away as South America journey each year to the wetlands, ponds, lakes, streams, and rivers on the Reserve’s coastal plain. The area has also sustained human communities for thousands of years and continues to supply the subsistence needs of Alaska Natives today.
Originally set aside by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 when the U.S. Navy was converting its fleet from coal to oil, the Reserve has been managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) since 1976 under a congressional mandate that energy exploration be conducted in a manner consistent with “maximum protection” of the environment, fish and wildlife, and historical or scenic values. Although the Reserve appropriately has a role in meeting America’s future energy needs, Congress has expressly recognized that high-value wildlife habitats in the region should be protected. Federal law states that the secretary of the interior “shall include or provide for such conditions, restrictions, and prohibitions as the Secretary deems necessary or appropriate to mitigate reasonably foreseeable and significantly adverse effects on the surface resources” of the Reserve.
Current Department of Interior Actions
A total of 1.5 million acres of the Reserve is now leased for oil and gas development, and President Obama has publicly committed to pursuing a policy of accelerated oil development leasing by offering annual lease sales in the Reserve while also protecting ecologically important and sensitive areas.
In July 2010, BLM began developing a first-ever comprehensive plan (called an Integrated Activity Plan, or IAP) to determine which areas within the NPR-A should be protected and which are appropriate for oil and gas development.
The BLM issued a Draft IAP Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on March 30 and concluded its public comment period on the document on June 15. Issues analyzed in the Draft IAP/EIS included oil and gas leasing; impacts of development, such as effects on caribou, birds, subsistence, and public health; climate change; and protection of threatened and endangered species.
Alternative B would identify the Reserve’s most critical wildlife habitat in five recognized Special Areas (Colville River, Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok River Uplands, Pearl Bay, and Kasegaluk Lagoon). It would also allow oil and gas leasing on 11 million acres of the Reserve, estimated to hold 235 million barrels of oil and 7.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.