The Bureau of Land Management announced last week that it will sell lease rights for oil and gas exploration in 2.6 million acres of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
In 1923 President Harding set aside 23 million acres as an emergency oil supply for the U.S. Navy. In 1976 administration of the reserve shifted to the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Interior Department.
The upcoming lease sales, set to take place in October, will open up much of the northeast section of the reserve. Tom Lonnie, Alaska state director for the BLM, says he expects the first oil production to begin between 2010 and 2012 in the easternmost portion of the reserve west of the Colville River. There is a fully developed oil complex on state lands on the eastern banks of the river.
Henri Bisson, deputy director of the BLM said that the timing of the sale, just when Congress and the Bush Administration are clamoring for access to more and more federal land for oil exploration, is coincidental. (While at the same time voting down “use it or lose it” legislation requiring oil companies to show they have fully explored and developed any oil on the 68 million acres of federal land on which they already hold leases before any more federal land be made available to them.)
The timing is exactly the path we've been on for the past year and a half”, said Bisson, further noting that the management plan, released last May, had been in the works for some time.
Not included in the sale are environmentally sensitive wetlands north and east of Teshekpuk Lake, near Beaufort Sea – at least for now. Any drilling in the area has been deferred by the BLM for 10 years.
Stan Senner, Executive Director of Audubon Alaska, along with local Inpiat Eskimo residents, praised the BLM’s decision to defer drilling in these wetlands, saying that it…
…acknowledges the international importance of the Teshekpuk wetland, which have been protected by every federal administration since Jimmy Carter”.
Senner added that ideally the protection would be made permanent.