The Interior Department will review and could replace the Trump-era management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that put millions more acres on the table for possible oil and gas development, the agency announced Tuesday.
An initial assessment of the management plan shows that it conflicts with President Joe Biden’s executive order in January to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, according to a legal memorandum filed in a U.S. District Court case in Anchorage on Tuesday.
The Bureau of Land Management will conduct the 120-day review to determine if the existing plan is in compliance with federal law, according to the three-page memorandum from Laura Daniel-Davis, a principal deputy assistant secretary with Interior. The BLM evaluation, due by Jan. 3, could lead to a new plan.
The 23-million-acre reserve lies at the western edge of oil and gas development on Alaska’s North Slope. Interest in the area has increased following major new oil discoveries, including ConocoPhillips’ Willow field, inside the reserve’s boundaries.
The Biden administration has backed Willow, a project long in the works, but a federal judge last month voided development permits for the project.
At the end of last year, the Trump administration approved the most intensive development option for the reserve, putting 18.5 million acres on the table for possible development, including in the biologically sensitive Teshekpuk Lake area, Daniel-Davis said in the memorandum.
The previous plan approved under the Obama administration set aside 12 million acres for possible development, about half the reserve.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in a post to social media on Wednesday, called the Biden administration’s move to review the plan a “politically motivated stunt to lock up the NPR-A,” saying it is “short sighted, threatens Alaskan jobs and seeks to undermine investment in our state.”
The Center for Biological Diversity and other conservation groups brought the case against the federal government last summer to stop the Trump-era plan, saying it fails to accurately assess oil and gas infrastructure’s impacts on polar bears and other species, among other concerns. The case is temporarily suspended during the review.
Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement on Wednesday that the Interior Department should revoke the existing plan.
“It’s a no-brainer that new Arctic oil leasing is completely inconsistent with addressing the climate emergency,” she said in a statement.