Energy & Environment

Obama admin to withdraw millions of Alaska acres from development

Obama admin to withdraw millions of Alaska acres from development
U.S. Rep. Don Young, left, (R-Alaska) speaks as Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) looks on at a U.S. House Natural Resources Committee oversight hearing.

The Obama administration’s plan to lock up nearly half of the National Petroleum Reserve from energy production has drawn criticism from key Alaska officials and Iñupiat Eskimos who say the plan is unacceptable and should be canceled.

The 23 million acre reserve on Alaska’s north slope was set aside by Congress 90 years ago to preserve the domestic supply of oil and gas, and critics say the proposal shelves the most prosperous lands.

“At a minimum, the administration’s proposed management plan would add uncertainty and delay development projects at a time when the U.S. badly needs both the energy and the jobs,” said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska). “It begs the question, if we can’t develop (the reserve), where will this administration let us develop? Their proposed management plan is unacceptable to me and as long as I’m in Washington D.C., these recommendations will never see the light of day.”

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, officially withdrew the state from further cooperation with the Interior Department unless the plan is canceled.

The “surprise announcement” and “complete failure” of the federal government to consider numerous concerns expressed by the state “shows a complete lack of respect for the views of the state,” Parnell said in a Sept. 12 letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The Aug. 13 announcement, made with little fanfare after Congress left town for the summer recess, restricts leases for energy development to less than 12 million acres that the government estimates holds 549 million barrels of oil. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2002 there were 9 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the reserve, but revised their estimate in 2010 to less than 900 million barrels.

By limiting energy production, the plan would protect “world-class caribou herds, migratory bird habitat, uplands, and sensitive coastal resources that are central to the culture and subsistence lifestyle of Alaska natives and our nation’s conservation heritage,” the announcement said.

Local support disputed

However, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) that represents the interests of the Iñupiat in Barrow, Alaska, is opposed to the plan and disputes Salazar’s contention it has local support.

Richard Glenn, ASRC executive vice president of lands and natural resources, says “despite the department’s statements of working and collaborating with Alaska Native groups we feel that our efforts are rejected.”

“Salazar’s choice would lock up large swaths of land with little or no additional benefit to wildlife resources found there and elsewhere throughout the petroleum reserve. Waterfowl, fish and caribou do not recognize boxes on a map,” Glenn said.

Rex A. Rock, Sr., ARSC president, said the plan essentially locks up the most prospective areas for increased domestic energy supply, while proposing lease sales on tracts of land with low oil potential.

“This is supposed to be used for energy production, they shouldn’t be treating it as a wilderness area,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president of policy for the Institute of Energy Research.

Obama has effectively blocked oil production on federally controlled property including the Outer Continental Shelf, ANWR, and onshore drilling in the lower 48 states, Kish said.

As the price of gas continues to rise, one option for consumer relief being considered by President Barack Obama is the release of oil from the country’s emergency supply of 700 million barrels in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

“Rather than allowing Americans to go to work and increase the supply of oil, Obama would rather take it from the bank,” Kish said. “He’s like a rich kid who won’t get a job because he has a trust fund, a bank account he can draw down on.”

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