President Obama is campaigning as a champion of the oil and gas boom he’s had nothing to do with, and even as his regulators try to stifle it. The latest example is the Interior Department’s little-noticed August decision to close off from drilling nearly half of the 23.5 million acre National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.
The area is called the National Petroleum Reserve because in 1976 Congress designated it as a strategic oil and natural gas stockpile to meet the “energy needs of the nation.” Alaska favors exploration in nearly the entire reserve. The feds had been reviewing four potential development plans, and the state of Alaska had strongly objected to the most restrictive of the four. Sure enough, that was the plan Interior chose.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says his plan “will help the industry bring energy safely to market from this remote location, while also protecting wildlife and subsistence rights of Alaska Natives.” He added that the proposal will expand “safe and responsible oil and gas development, and builds on our efforts to help companies develop the infrastructure that’s needed to bring supplies online.”
The problem is almost no one in the energy industry and few in Alaska agree with him. In an August 22 letter to Mr. Salazar, the entire Alaska delegation in Congress—Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski and Representative Don Young—call it “the largest wholesale land withdrawal and blocking of access to an energy resource by the federal government in decades.” This decision, they add, “will cause serious harm to the economy and energy security of the United States, as well as to the state of Alaska.” Mr. Begich is a Democrat.
The letter also says the ruling “will significantly limit options for a pipeline” through the reserve. This pipeline has long been sought to transport oil and gas from the Chukchi Sea, the North Slope and future Arctic drilling. Mr. Salazar insists that a pipeline could still be built, but given the Obama Administration’s decision to block the Keystone XL pipeline, Alaskans are right to be skeptical.
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