In April of 1987, after six years of energy and environmental study, former Secretary of the Interior Donald Hodel recommended to Congress that the so called “coastal plain” of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) should be available for oil and gas exploration, development and transportation. Congress had created the 19.3 million-acre ANWR in 1980, setting aside 8% of the refuge, a 1.6 million-acre area along the Arctic Ocean Beaufort Sea coast, for study of its energy potential. Secretary Hodel’s recommendations were never implemented. President Donald Trump’s bold leadership brought more than three decades of inaction to an end when he signed a new law requiring these vast energy resources be developed, contributing to America’s future economic prosperity and energy security.
This is no ordinary oil and gas program on the public lands. This is a mandated energy production program of significant national importance. The new law settles the question of whether the leasing, exploration and development of oil and gas will occur on a small portion of ANWR. It requires an oil and gas development program that delivers energy to the nation and revenue to the treasury. The law makes oil and gas development one of the purposes of the refuge, clearly directing the Secretary, acting through the Bureau of Land Management, to carry out an aggressive, competitive exploration and development program for the potentially energy rich coastal plain.
Congress mandated that coastal plain leaseholders get the necessary rights-of-way, easements and land areas for production and support facilities they need to find and develop the area’s oil and gas resources. Understanding that limitations on access to land and facilities had restricted oil and gas development in other Arctic federal areas, Congress acted decisively to ensure that ANWR leaseholders will receive the tools needed to economically and expeditiously realize these energy resources for the American people.
Congress also wanted the program to proceed without delay, knowing the time between discovery and production in ANWR could be as long as 10 years. The law requires at least two lease sales of 400,000 acres each to be held within the first seven years, with the first sale to take place before December 21, 2021. To this end, we have issued our decision for how the required oil and gas program will be accomplished in a manner that responsibly develops this national energy resource and uses the best available science to mitigate the impact to the surrounding landscape and wildlife.
The U.S. Geological Survey considers the ANWR coastal plain to be the largest conventional onshore prospect in North America. President Trump’s ANWR oil and gas program could create thousands of new jobs and generate tens of billions of dollars in new revenues, all the while emboldening our national security by furthering American energy independence. Material, services and infrastructure needed for oil production in the coastal plain will create high-paying jobs nationwide, from building oil tankers in Louisiana to constructing steel used to build pipelines in Pennsylvania. If oil is found, the coastal plain development and production required by the law could begin in about 8 to 10 years and deliver economic and national security benefits for 50 years or more.
The positive, local economic impact would be significant and is recognized by the Inupiat people of the Arctic and residents of the village of Kaktovik, nestled in and surrounded by the ANWR coastal plain, who support development. Development of these important energy resources will provide the Inupiat communities who live there with jobs and to keep the lights on for future generations — providing the basic infrastructure and opportunity so many of us take for granted — schools, roads, stores, community centers, running water and basic sanitation systems. These are the people who find cultural and life-giving sustenance from the whale, walrus, seal, polar bear and caribou. They know that their reliance on the Arctic’s natural bounty can coexist with responsible energy development, as has been demonstrated for the past 40 years on Alaska’s North Slope.
Harnessing the energy potential of ANWR’s coastal plain marks a long-overdue, new chapter in American energy independence. Under President Trump’s leadership, the open questions about the future of coastal plain oil and gas reserves have been answered; years of inaction have given way to an informed and determined plan to responsibly tap ANWR’s energy potential for the American people for generations to come.
David L. Bernhardt is the 53rd United States Secretary of the Interior.
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