BLM Prepares for Release of Revised Alaska Drilling Plan

The Bureau of Land Management plans to release a revised plan this week for oil leasing in an Alaskan region that has become a focal point of battles over North Slope areas rich in wildlife and energy potential.

Release of BLM's draft supplemental environmental impact statement for the northeast section of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska will begin about two months of public comment on the plan.

Tom Lonnie, BLM's Alaska state director, said in a statement that the 4.6-million-acre northeast region is "important for meeting our nation's energy demands."

"This supplemental plan will allow us to consider the lands appropriate for leasing and the restrictions we should place on exploration and development that will result in petroleum production while protecting the area's important resources," he said.

Last year a federal court blocked a lease sale in the northeast region and sent BLM back to the drawing board to revise its plans. The court said BLM did not address the "cumulative impacts" of energy development (Greenwire, Sept. 26).

The plan for the northeast region includes almost 400,000 acres around Teshekpuk Lake that had been off-limits and environmentalists want permanently protected. Groups claim that development will harm caribou, geese and other wildlife.

But those areas are coveted by industry, and the Bush administration says leasing restrictions allow both development and wildlife protection. BLM, announcing the upcoming revised plan, said it "expanded its consideration of additional measures that would minimize impacts, as well as consider results from scientific studies completed since 2005."

BLM said last year that the region around Teshekpuk Lake it is seeking to open may contain around 2 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil.

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