Alaskan Drilling Plan Released

On Friday the Bureau of Land Management released a draft of its proposal on expanding oil and natural gas drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. The 1,000-page report proposed four scenarios for the northwest area of the National Petroleum Reserve, ranging from having no drilling to giving oil companies access to parts of the reserve. The reports reviews the impact of drilling on 100 percent, 96 percent and 47 percent of the 8.8 million acres in the reserve's northwest planning area.

The scenario that opens up 47 percent of the land is the option that allows drilling and protects the environment the most. This option would permit drilling in 2 percent of the area with the most potentially high oil and gas discovery, while withholding from leasing those lands with high habitat values near estuaries, deep-water lakes and rivers. Leasing also would not be allowed in caribou movement and migration areas and on lands that are important areas for raptors and loons.

Permanent oil and gas facilities would also be prohibited in and along the major bay and lagoon shores (including islands), under the most restricted drilling option.

The 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve -- about the size of Indiana -- is in the northwest corner of Alaska, and was established in 1923 to provide a source of energy for the nation's military forces. Despite sporadic exploration since the 1940s, there has never been commercial oil development there.

BLM will take public comment on the four scenarios for 60 days until March 18 and then present one to Interior Secretary Gale Norton in a final environmental impact statement expected later this year.

The Bush administration is separately pushing to open the nearby Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. Republican lawmakers are considering including language in federal budget legislation to allow drilling in ANWR.