BLM-Alaska Releases Lease Plan for NPR-A

In a recently released plan, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it would make land available for leasing in the Northeast portion of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) that could yield nearly 3 billion barrels of oil, equaling one quarter of the oil produced over the last 31 years by North America's largest oilfield in Prudhoe Bay. The lands could also provide trillions of cubic feet of gas for shipment to North American markets through gas pipelines currently in the planning stages.

The BLM would not open 219,000 acres of Teshekpuk Lake and its islands to oil and gas leasing according to the preferred alternative selected by the agency in its Supplemental Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environment Impact Statement (IAP/EIS). The plan's preferred alternative would also defer leasing for 10 years on 430,000 acres north and east of Teshekpuk Lake that are currently unavailable for leasing.

"This plan provides a balanced approach to energy development and wildlife protection, and forms a solid basis for the Bureau of Land Management to proceed with an oil and gas lease sale later this year," said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne.

The BLM expects to hold a lease sale this fall for available portions of the Northeast area, as well as portions of the Northwest planning area.

North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta expressed support for the plan's deferral of acreage near Teshekpuk Lake. "BLM listened to local communities and it made the plan better," Itta said. "The lease sale can proceed while one of the region's most sensitive wildlife habitats will be protected. It's a win-win."

The plan includes protections for the polar bear, including requirements to consider impacts on areas used by the polar bears for denning. Additionally, with the listing of the polar bear earlier this week, the agency will continue to work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on future oil and gas activities.

The supplemental final plan for Northeast NPR-A updates information in the 2005 Northeast NPR-A Amended Environmental Impact Statement. The BLM began developing the supplement in December 2006 in response to a September 25, 2006, U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska decision that the 2005 Northeast NPR-A Amended Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (IAP/EIS) failed to adequately address cumulative impacts. The Notice of Availability announcing the release of the plan will be published in the Federal Register later this month.