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Administration moves to open large area of remote Alaska for oil drilling

Updated 5:01 PM ET, Thu June 25, 2020

(CNN) - Most of Alaska's 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve would be open for oil and gas leasing under a new Trump administration plan.

The Bureau of Land Management plan announced on Thursday would open 18.6 million acres for leasing, about 82% of what the Interior Department said is the nation's largest area of federally managed land.

The government's draft plans, released in November, had considered opening at most 18.3 million acres. It considered opening smaller tracts, too, including maintaining only the 11.8 million acres already available.

Located in Alaska's remote North Slope, the NPR-A is separate from the nearly 20 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Trump administration has also moved toward opening a swath of ANWR for oil operations and the infrastructure needed to support the people, pipelines and equipment stationed there.

The NPR-A could produce 8.7 billion barrels of oil and 25 trillion feet of natural gas, according to the land management agency.

The area is home to two caribou herds, grizzly bears, wolves and loons. Tens of thousands of geese visit the area annually for molting.

Wildlife in the region around Teshekpuk Lake is particularly abundant, and each of the options considered in the agency's draft plans would have made special considerations for that area. For the 18.3 million acre option, the agency said the "impacts on caribou calving habitat and important bird habitat [would be] partially mitigated through no surface occupancy stipulations and timing limitations."

Agency documents acknowledge that developing the areas will lead to higher greenhouse gas emissions, a driver of climate change. It said in November that emissions under the 18.3 million option would be about four times higher than the option to open no new territory.

It is unclear how the Teshekpuk Lake area will be treated in the final plan because the detailed documents have not yet been posted to the agency's planning website.

Earthjustice, which has taken the Trump administration to court over its environmental moves, said the plan "rolls back nearly all of the key safeguards that are currently in place to protect the Western Arctic's outstanding ecosystems and the people and cultures they have sustained for thousands of years -- all to pave the way for expanded oil and gas drilling."

The Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group also at odds with the administration, called the plan a "disaster."

"Drilling oil and gas wells in the Western Arctic would do immense harm to Arctic wildlife already under siege from the climate crisis," said Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the group.


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