12/11/2018 - Regulatory Rollback

National Petroleum Reserve Oil and Gas Development

by Hana Vizcarra, Laura Bloomer

The Environmental & Energy Law Program is tracking the environmental regulatory rollbacks of the Trump administration. Click here for the list of rules we are following. If you’re a reporter and would like to speak with an expert on this rule, please email us.

Why It Matters

In 1923, President Harding provided the U.S. Navy with an emergency oil supply by designating over 22 million acres of land in Alaska as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The National Petroleum Reserve is the nation’s largest block of public land. In fact, the name is slightly deceptive – much of the reserve is protected from oil and gas development because of its significant environmental value. In transferring management authority of the National Petroleum Reserve from the Navy to the Department of the Interior in 1976, Congress specifically called for “maximum protection” of the Utukok River, the Teshekpuk Lake area, and other lands with significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, or historical or scenic value.

Over the years, approximately half of the reserve has been designated as available for oil and gas leasing. The remaining lands, most recently around 11 million acres, have remained protected from such activities. In particular, the Teshekpuk Lake area on Alaska’s north slope is one of the most important wetlands in the arctic – supporting tens of thousands of geese, the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, and other wildlife. Millions of acres in the southwestern portion of the reserve also provide important calving locations and migration routes for caribou herds.

Current Status

Nov. 21, 2018 BLM publishes a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Integrated Activity Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. This action initiated the scoping period for the plan, which will inform BLM’s decision to allow more oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve. The Bureau is seeking comments on: which additional areas within the National Petroleum Reserve should be available for oil and gas leasing; how to manage those leases; whether the boundaries of the protected areas should be adjusted; and what resources should be addressed in the plan. Comments can be submitted online until January 7, 2019.

Dec. 6, 2018 Judge Sharon Gleason for the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska upholds BLM’s 2016 and 2017 oil and gas lease sales for tracts of land in the National Petroleum Reserve.

Dec. 10, 2018 BLM schedules eight public meetings to discuss a new Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) and associated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

Dec. 12, 2018 BLM holds a lease sale for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A).

Dec. 13, 2018 BLM reschedules four public meetings on the new NPR-A IAP and EIS that had been postponed due to an earthquake.

History

Oct. 23, 2012 BLM published a final Integrated Activity Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. This established a land use and management plan for the federal lands within the National Petroleum Reserve.

Feb. 21, 2013 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signs the Record of Decision, official adopting the Integrated Activity Plan and Environmental Impact Statement for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Under BLM’s plan, approximately 11 million acres are protected from development, whereas nearly 12 million acres are available for oil and gas leasing. The plan expands or creates multiple “special areas,” including the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area. Oil and gas infrastructure, such as pipelines, is allowed on 14 million acres and may traverse portions of the special areas. Permanent structures are prohibited in certain areas, including the 7.3 million acres in the southwest that are essential for calving and summer migration of caribou. The plan also establishes best management practices and monitoring requirements for oil and gas activities.

Trump Era

May 31, 2017 Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3352 “to jump-start Alaskan energy production….” The order directs the agency to review and revise the 2013 Integrated Activity Plan and to evaluate methods to maximize the land available during the next lease sale. It also calls for a plan to reassess the oil and gas resources available in Alaska’s North Slope, including the National Petroleum Reserve and Section 1002 in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. For more information on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, see EELP’s post here.

Oct. 25, 2017 BLM announces it will make available 900 tracts of land for oil and gas leasing. These tracts constitute the entire 10.3 million acres available for leasing, and the offer was the largest in history. By comparison, fewer than 1.5 million acres were offered in the 2016 lease sale.

Feb. 2, 2018 Two coalitions of environmental organizations file similar lawsuits with the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska challenging BLM’s lease sales. Both coalitions argue that BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act. One complaint alleges that BLM failed to analyze the environmental impacts of the 2017 lease sale, Northern Alaska Environmental Center et al. v. U.S. Department of the Interior, Docket No. 3:18-cv-00030-SLG.  The second complaint alleges that BLM acted unlawfully during the 2016 and 2017 lease sales by not considering the climate impacts of oil and gas development and by not properly assessing alternative lease plans, Natural Resources Defense Council et al. v. Zinke, Docket No. 3:18-cv-00031.

Nov. 9, 2018 BLM announces that it will offer 2.85 million acres for oil and gas development in its 2018 lease sale.

Nov. 21, 2018 BLM publishes a Notice of Intent to prepare a new Integrated Activity Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. This action initiates the scoping period for the plan, which will inform BLM’s decision to allow more oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve. The Bureau is seeking comments on: which additional areas within the National Petroleum Reserve should be available for oil and gas leasing; how to manage those leases; whether the boundaries of the protected areas should be adjusted; and what resources should be addressed in the plan. Comments can be submitted online until January 7, 2019.

Dec. 6, 2018 Judge Sharon Gleason for the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska rules against the environmental organizations and upholds BLM’s lease sales.

Dec. 10, 2018 BLM schedules eight public meetings to discuss a new Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) and associated Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

Dec. 12, 2018 BLM holds a lease sale for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A).

Dec. 13, 2018 BLM reschedules four public meetings on the new NPR-A IAP and EIS that had been postponed due to an earthquake.

Thank you to Harvard student Laura Bloomer, JD/MPP 2019, for her assistance with this rule.