Industry Protests Obama’s Plan for Alaskan Oil Reserves

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A new proposal by the Obama administration to expand drilling to half of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) has attracted criticism from the oil industry, as the plan still leaves a broad area off limits to new oil development. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said new development will be permitted in an 11.8 million-acre geographical area, which purportedly holds about 549 million barrels of oil, while coastal regions such as Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay — where there is a higher concentration of seals and polar bears — will receive “special protection.”

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the entire reserve harbors about 900 million barrels of oil, a region west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge approximately the size of Indiana. Opening up only half of this area to leasing is disappointing, says Erik Milito, a director at the American Petroleum Institute (API). “This falls short of where we need to be.”

In a conference call on Tuesday, API president and CEO Jack Gerard disputed President Obama’s so-called “all of the above” energy policy. “Today, we’re sending a letter to the White House to urge the president and his agencies to do more than merely talk about ‘all-of-the-above’ while they pursue policies that include ‘none-of- the-below,’” Gerard charged.

Gerard protested that the Obama administration’s plan to restrict this vast opportunity for oil development is unacceptable, and that it will further depress the nation’s capabilities to become more energy independent. “One half of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, it was announced just yesterday [August 13], has been taken off limits,” Gerard affirmed. “This is an area by law dating back to the 1920s, [which] was specifically set aside in Alaska for oil and natural gas development. The announcement yesterday by Secretary [Ken] Salazar was essentially an announcement that we’re going to take everything that was legislatively set aside and we’re placing them off-limits.”

President Warren Harding established the NPR-A in 1923 as a resource for the U.S. Navy during a period when its ships were transferring over from coal to oil power. In 1976, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act handed 23.5 million acres over to the Department of the Interior. Then in 1980, the Interior Department Appropriations Act appointed the agency’s Bureau of Land Management to administer oil leasing on the Alaskan land.

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