US Interior Department Restricts Leasing in Alaska

The Bureau of Land Management finalized the Management and Protection of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska rule aimed at more than 13 million acres in the western Arctic.

The National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska is now an approximately 23-million-acre area on Alaska’s North Slope.
Source: BLM

The US Department of the Interior recently took two actions affecting millions of acres in Alaska. The steps follow actions to protect millions of acres of lands and waters in the Arctic, including withdrawing approximately 2.8 million acres of the Beaufort Sea, ensuring the entire United States Arctic Ocean is off limits to new oil and gas leasing.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on 19 April finalized the Management and Protection of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) rule aimed at protecting significant resource values on the more than 13 million acres of Special Areas in the western Arctic.

“Since Day 1 of the Biden/Harris administration, the Interior Department has maintained its commitment to restoring an appropriate balance between conservation and development,” said Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. “Today’s announcements underscore our commitment to ensure that places too special to develop remain intact for the communities and species that rely on them. There is no question, using the best available science and incorporating Indigenous knowledge practiced over millennia, that these decisions will help biological, cultural, historic and subsistence resources, safeguarding the way of life for the Indigenous people who have called this special place home since time immemorial.”

The BLM also released its final supplemental environmental analysis for the Ambler Road project, which was proposed by the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) and would span over 210 miles of significant wildlife habitat along the Brooks Range in north central Alaska. The BLM identified “No Action” as its preferred alternative, finding that each of the other alternatives would significantly and irrevocably affect resources, including those supporting important subsistence uses, in ways that cannot be adequately mitigated. The “No Action” alternative, if finalized in a Record of Decision, would mean that the AIDEA would not receive a right-of-way to build the road across BLM-managed public lands.

Both the NPR-A rule and the Ambler analysis come after several months of nation-to-nation consultations, public comment periods, and in-depth discussions with Alaska Native Tribes and communities, corporations, and organizations; hunters and anglers; conservation organizations; oil, gas, and mining producers and industry experts; academics; and other stakeholders.

“Today’s historic actions to protect lands and waters in the western Arctic will ensure continued subsistence use by Alaska Native communities while conserving these special places for future generations,” said John Podesta, senior adviser to the president for international climate policy. “With these new announcements, the Biden/Harris administration has now protected more than 41 million acres of lands and waters across the country, leaving a huge mark on the history of American conservation.”

Management and Protection of the NPR-A Rule
Under the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA) of 1976, as amended, Congress directed the BLM to balance oil and gas development with the management and protection of significant resource values in locations known as Special Areas and mitigate the effects of oil and gas activities on surface resources across the reserve. The final rule updates the existing regulatory framework, adopted more than 40 years ago.

Extending from the northwest slope of the Brooks Range to the Arctic Coast, the NPR-A encompasses roughly 23 million acres of public land managed by the BLM. Tribal Nations have occupied lands now within the NPR-A since time immemorial, and more than 40 Indigenous communities continue to rely on the resources from the reserve.

The final rule codifies protections for 13.3 million acres encompassed by the existing Special Areas, limiting future oil and gas leasing and industrial development in the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas—places collectively known for their globally significant intact habitat for wildlife, including grizzly and polar bears, caribou and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. The rule also codifies existing prohibitions on new leasing in 10.6 million acres, more than 40% of the NPR-A, consistent with the current NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan (IAP).

Similarly, the rule clarifies management requirements in Special Areas while providing clear guidelines for development that protect subsistence resources throughout the NPR-A—also consistent with key provisions of the current IAP—and ensuring protection of valid existing rights.