North

U.S. Interior Department eyes protected Arctic land for drilling

The department began talks with state officials and the North Slope Borough, looking to update the 2013 management plan that kept drilling off about half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News reported this week.

'It's ripe for a review,' says one department official

The potential area includes part of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which is considered vital for several animal species, including caribou, polar bears and migrating birds. This image provided by Subhankar Banerjee via the Alaska Wilderness League shows an aerial view of some wetland areas and caribou on Lake Teshekpuk in 2006. (Subhankar Banerjee via the Alaska Wilderness League/Associated Press)

The Trump administration is aiming to open millions of hectares of Alaska Arctic land for drilling that was protected under the Obama administration.

The U.S. Department of the Interior began talks with state officials and the North Slope Borough, looking to update the 2013 management plan that kept drilling off about half of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News reported this week. The vast reserve spans about 93,077 square kilometres, and is almost as large as the state of Maine.

The potential area includes part of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, which was about doubled in size under the integrated activity plan and other protections. The area and nearby wetlands are considered vital for several animal species, including caribou, polar bears and migrating birds.

The formal process to review and revise the plan has not started, said Joe Balash, the department's assistant secretary for land and minerals management.

"The [management] plan really restricted a lot of acreage," Balash said. "A lot of people were unhappy about it. The borough was unhappy, the state was unhappy. So it's ripe for a review."

Protections warranted, says Audubon Alaska 

Susan Culliney, policy director for Audubon Alaska, said the existing plan doesn't need to be changed because it balances conservation and oil development. Environmental review and public comment will be critical for any revision to the plan, she said.

"Audubon will certainly be there to offer science and data" to show why strong protections are warranted, she said.

The borough wants the part of the protected lands with strong oil and gas potential to be opened up, Mayor Harry Brower Jr. said.

Measures to protect wildlife and subsistence hunters can be implemented where needed.

The size of the area that could open for drilling is uncertain and the proposal will be made with input from the stakeholders, Balash said

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