US Opens Alaska Wildlife Refuge to Oil and Gas Leasing

The area has a potential for up to 11.8 million bbl of recoverable oil reserves. The program aims to keep oil flowing in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, which has seen dwindling throughput since 1988.

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The US approved a leasing program making nearly 1.6 million acres in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) available for oil and gas leasing and future exploration, development, and transportation with a potential of 4.3–11.8 billion bbl of technically recoverable oil reserves.

The Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program was approved by Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, who signed a record of decision (ROC). The approval determines where and under what terms and conditions leasing will occur in the 1.56-million-acre Coastal Plain within the 19.3-million-acre ANWR.

Almost 2 million public comments sent to the US Bureau of Land Management were also considered in developing a plan for the oil and gas program. The Department of Interior made the final environmental impact statement for the leasing program available in September 2019, which considered a range of alternatives in order to meet energy leasing provisions contained in the Act.

The Act changed the purposes of ANWR management to include oil and gas development, which required an energy development program to keep oil flowing in the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPs).

Looking for a Boost: Trans Alaska Pipeline Throughput  

  • In April, the pipeline operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. (APS) said, “In recent days, TAPs has transported roughly 500,000 B/D day from the North Slope.”
  • APS then temporarily cut throughput by roughly 50,000 B/D by requesting 10% reductions from each producer in response to crude-oil oversupply and high storage inventory  
  • Full capacity of the pipeline is 21,000 bbl/hour
  • Last year, the daily throughput averaged 490,366 bbl with a total annual throughput of nearly 179 million bbl
  • The historical maximum average daily throughput is 1.1 million bbl
  • Maximum daily throughput was 2.1 million on 14 January 1988
  • Maximum annual throughput was about 744 million bbl in 1988

It also requires two areawide leasing sales, not less than 400,000 acres each, along the Coastal Plain of the ANWR. Lease sales must be held within 7 years with the first lease sale taking place before 22 December 2021 and the second lease sale before 22 December 2024. 

The Secretary of the Interior is required to grant rights-of-way and easements necessary for development of the oil and gas resources and authorize up to 2,000 surface acres, or .01% ANWR’s 19.3 million acres, to be covered by production and support facilities.

The ROC also provides protections for surface resources and other uses, including subsistence use through a package of lease stipulations and required operating procedures for oil and gas activities.

Congress opened 8% of ANWR for oil and gas development, leaving 92% of the 19.3-million-acre refuge off-limits to energy development by law, including 8 million acres in the Mollie Beattie Wilderness included in the National Wilderness Preservation System.