The U.S. Interior Department opened the door to the possibility of an oil pipeline across the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and to oil and gas leasing on 11.8 million acres of it.
The draft development proposal unveiled Monday by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar represents the federal government’s first coordinated plan for the 22-million-acre reserve, which has seen limited oil production in recent years despite controversy over potential threats to wildlife.
The reserve, which lies west of the oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, is home to the famous Western Arctic caribou herd, numbering about 325,000, and a smaller herd of 45,000 caribou that migrates near Teshekpuk Lake.
The largest single block of public land in the country, the reserve contains an estimated 549 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
The compromise plan — unveiled after a long study that collected more than 400,000 public comments — would continue to protect some of the most ecologically sensitive areas, including Teshekpuk Lake, home to tens of thousands of geese and brant that migrate to the far north during sunny Arctic summers.
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