On March 13th, Joe Biden, president of U.S.A., gave approval for, oil drilling project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), after significantly reducing its size.
To minimize the risks as well as the backlash, the Department is reducing the size of the project by denying two of the five drill sites proposed by ConocoPhillips. The company will also relinquish rights to approximately 68,000 acres of its existing leases in the NPR-A, including approximately 60,000 acres in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area.
The Willow Master Development Plan is a controversial oil drilling project in Alaska that has faced serious backlash in the past. Greenpeace has created a petition to stop the materialization of the project as it claims that it will be disastrous for the environment and for local communities. Some of the reasons behind the general opposition to the project are:
- As global warming numbers rise each year, an oil ring in the Arctic could speed up the melting of the ice
- Alaska is still largely inhabited so there are not enough facilities or people to aid in case of an emergency
- The natives who live off the land could see their culture ruined as industrialization proceeds
- In case of an oil spill, it will be difficult for aid to reach the area and the measures to contain oil spills in different parts of the world could still prove inefficient due to the ice in the water.
The Record of Decision denies two of the five drill site pads proposed by ConocoPhillips, reducing the project’s drill pads by 40 percent. The concurrent relinquishment of 68,000 acres by the company of its existing northernmost and southernmost leases within the Bear Tooth Unit reduces the Bear Tooth Unit’s footprint in the NPR-A by one-third. This reduces the project’s freshwater use and eliminates all infrastructure related to the two rejected drill sites, including approximately 11 miles of roads, 20 miles of pipelines, and 133 acres of gravel, all of which reduces potential impacts to caribou migration and subsistence users.
The actions will create an additional buffer from exploration and development activities near the calving grounds and migratory routes for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, an important subsistence resource for nearby Alaska Native communities. They significantly scale-back the Willow Project within the constraints of valid existing rights under decades-old leases issued by prior Administrations.
The Biden-Harris administration announced important steps to limit future industrial development in the NPR-A. First, the Interior Department is initiating a rulemaking to achieve maximum protection for Special Areas in the NPR-A. The proposed rule, which will be available for public comment in the coming months, will consider additional protections for the more than 13 million acres designated as Special Areas in recognition of their importance to wildlife and subsistence uses.
The rule would limit future oil and gas leasing and industrial development in the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas – places collectively known for their globally significant intact habitat for wildlife, including grizzly and polar bears, caribou, and hundreds of thousands of migratory birds. The proposed rulemaking would help protect subsistence uses in the NPR-A, responding to Alaska Native communities who have relied on the land, water, and wildlife to support their way of life for thousands of years.
Furthermore, President Biden will take action to designate approximately 2.8 million acres in the Arctic Ocean nearshore the NPR-A as indefinitely off limits for future oil and gas leasing. The withdrawal will ensure this important habitat for whales, seals, polar bears, as well as for subsistence purposes, will be protected in perpetuity from extractive development. The withdrawal will provide additional protections for Teshekpuk Lake, guarding against the potential that future Beaufort Sea oil and gas developments would seek to build pipeline infrastructure into the NPR-A.
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