Alaskan lawmakers and other critics of the Obama administration’s energy agenda launched fresh rebukes Thursday to Secretary Ken Salazar’s signing of an Interior Department plan that opens as much as 11.8 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to oil and gas development.
“I continue to have the same reservations that I had before about the negative impact this plan will have on our national energy security and Alaska’s economy,” Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said. “I don’t support this plan and I don’t agree that a land management plan focused on conservation was appropriate for a petroleum reserve.”
Thursday’s Interior decision expands protected areas in the reserve from 8.3 million acres to 13.35 million acres, and it also provides explicit approval for pipelines to be built to carry oil from the Beaufort and Chukchi seas through NPR-A. Interior said the plan would make accessible an estimated 549 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
It also creates a working group that provides representation for native corporations and local governments in Alaska.
“Today’s decision by the Department of Interior is yet another game of smoke and mirrors. While the Department of Interior makes a point to allow for pipeline construction through the NPR-A, the potential routes do not appear realistic," Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) said. “The Department of Interior has once again caved to environmental special interest groups, and unfortunately today’s finalized plan will do nothing but further restrict potential oil and gas development in a petroleum reserve established to ensure America’s energy security.”
“Only in President Obama’s backwards worldview of anti-energy policies does it make sense to prohibit energy production in a place specifically set aside for energy production at a time when gasoline prices are skyrocketing and federal oil and natural gas production is declining,” House Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings said.
Murkowski’s fellow Alaskan senator, Mark Begich, was only slightly less critical than she was. “Despite their claims, it is clear the Interior Department yet again has made a decision about Alaska land use that ignores what Alaskans want,” Begich said in a statement. The Democrat said he that while he does “appreciate the strong and clear language on future pipeline routes through the NPR-A to carry Beaufort and Chukchi oil,” he is “left wondering what good a working group will do if they haven’t been doing a good job of listening so far?”
Salazar, in a statement, called the plan a "balanced approach" that protects the environment while offering access to 72 percent of “estimated economically recoverable oil” in the 23-million-acre reserve.
“This comprehensive plan will allow us to continue to expand our leasing in the NPR-A, as has happened over the last three years, while protecting the outstanding and unique resources that are critically important to the culture and subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Natives and our nation’s conservation heritage,” Salazar said.
Environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and others, applauded the decision for the environmental protections it establishes.
"By protecting 11 million acres of Arctic wetlands and wildlife nurseries, this final decision proves that sound energy policy and conservation can go hand in hand," said National Audubon Society President David Yarnold.
“The Reserve is home to our most iconic wildlife, like caribou, muskoxen, grizzly bears and beluga whales," said Cindy Shogan, executive director for the Alaska Wilderness League. “Thank you for protecting this special place for future generations.”