Biden Administration To Bar Drilling on Millions of Acres in Alaska

The administration will cancel oil and gas leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and set aside more than half of the National Petroleum Reserve.

Caribou near a pipeline in Alaska this spring.
Source: Erin Schaff/The New York Times

In its most aggressive move yet to protect federal land from oil and gas exploration, the Biden administration announced on 6 September that it would prohibit drilling in 13 million acres of pristine wilderness in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and cancel all drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The new regulations would ensure what the administration called “maximum protections” for nearly half of the petroleum reserve but would not stop the enormous $8 billion Willow oil drilling project in the same vicinity, which President Biden approved this year.

Climate activists, particularly young environmentalists, were angered by Biden’s decision in March to allow the Willow project, calling it a “carbon bomb.” Many called the move a betrayal of Biden’s campaign promise of “no new drilling, period” on federal lands and waters.

Since then, the administration has taken pains to emphasize its efforts to reduce the carbon emissions that result from burning oil and gas and that are driving climate change.

“We have a responsibility to protect this treasured region for all ages,” Biden said in a statement. “Canceling all remaining oil and gas leases issued under the previous administration in the Arctic Refuge and protecting more than 13 million acres in the western Arctic will help preserve our Arctic lands and wildlife, while honoring the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on these lands since time immemorial.”

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