Feds restrict oil and gas leasing in Alaska petroleum reserve

The environmental decision affects 13 million acres of the reserve.

The Biden administration has announced restrictions on new oil and gas leasing in 13 million acres of Alaska’s petroleum reserve.

Friday’s decision aims to protect wildlife, including caribou and polar bears, in the face of warming Arctic conditions.


The big picture: The restrictions finalize protections that were first proposed last year when the Willow oil project was approved, sparking criticism from environmentalists.

  • The decision also completes a previous plan to close nearly half of the reserve to oil and gas leasing.
  • Republican lawmakers, including Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan, have criticized the restrictions as an “illegal” attack on the state’s economy and anticipated legal challenges.
  • Existing leases in the reserve and currently authorized operations, such as the Willow project, are not affected by the decision.
  • As a gesture to environmentalists, the Biden administration also recommended rejecting a state corporation’s application for a proposed road that would allow mining of critical minerals in the area.
  • Alaska’s political leaders have accused the administration of harming the state’s development of oil, gas, minerals, and timber.

Go deeper: The petroleum reserve, located west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, supports caribou, polar bears, and migrating birds, and has been subject to ongoing debate over oil and gas development.

  • The new rules impose restrictions on future leasing and industrial development in areas designated as special for wildlife, subsistence, or other values, and allow regular evaluation for the designation of new special areas or enhanced protections.
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