Zinke Signs Expansive Oil and Gas Energy Order: Alaska Is ‘Open for Business’

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U.S. Dept. of Interior/Flickr

During his recent trip to Alaska, Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order to “jump-start” energy production in the National Petroleum Reserve and develop new resource assessments on the North Slope, including a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“This order, in effect, makes Alaska open for business,” Zinke said at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Within 31 days, the Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy is to deliver a plan to the Secretary for reviewing and effectuating the Department’s actions under the order,” the press release announcing the order states.

“The National Petroleum Reserve serves a critical role in both our energy and national security,” Zinke said. “This is land that was set up with the sole intention of oil and gas production, however years of politics over policy put roughly half of the NPR-A off-limits.”

“Using this land for its original intent will create good paying jobs and revenue for our Northern-most city and strengthen our energy and national security,” Zinke said. “Working with the Alaska Native community, Interior will identify areas in the NPR-A where responsible energy development makes the most sense and devise a plan to extract resources.

“We will do it in a way that both respects the environment and traditional uses of the land as well as maintains subsistence hunting and fishing access,” Zinke said.

“[The] action comes in response to President [Donald] Trump’s April 28 executive order directing the Interior Department to review offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, the Atlantic and the Pacific outer continental shelf regions,” E&E News reported.

“The president has tasked me to prepare our country to be energy dominant,” Zinke told a crowd of cheering Alaska oil industry supporters, according to E&E. “The only path for energy dominance is a path through the great state of Alaska.”

E&E reported that conservation groups oppose the move.

“The Wilderness Society’s Alaska regional director, Nicole Whittington-Evans, argued that the Arctic refuge should be protected as a national treasure,” E&E reported.

“We need to continue to protect and preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which has values far beyond whatever oil might lie beneath it,” she said.

“Some places are so special that they should simply be off-limits,” she said, “and the Arctic refuge really is … too wild to drill.”

But others, including North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr., an Inupiat whaling captain, whose borough encompasses the NPR-A and ANWR, praised Zinke and the order.

“I welcome Secretary Zinke’s new Secretarial Order,” Brower Jr. said. “In my meeting with Secretary Zinke earlier today, the Secretary committed that the Interior Department will engage in meaningful consultation with our communities, tribes, AEWC, and Native corporations during the Department’s review of the NPR-A IAP.”

“North Slope Borough residents recognize the importance of oil and gas to our local economy and the ability of our Borough and city governments to provide public services,” Brower Jr. said. “We look forward to working with the Secretary to continue to permit responsible development on the North Slope while, at the same time, protecting our wildlife and our subsistence way of life.”

“This Secretarial Order is exactly the type of announcement that so many Alaskans have been asking for: a smart, timely step to restore access to our lands, throughput to our Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and growth to our economy under reasonable regulations that do not sacrifice environmental protections,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources, said. “I thank Secretary Zinke for traveling to Alaska this week, for meeting with stakeholders to understand the unique needs and opportunities of our state, and for moving quickly to ensure we are finally allowed to realize more of our tremendous resource potential.”

“Today’s announcement marks a bright, new chapter in Alaska’s history,” Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said. “Thanks to Secretary Zinke’s leadership, we are ushering in an era of unprecedented federal-state partnership to develop Alaska’s resources.”

“This order allows for greater state input as Alaskans continue our strong record of safe and responsible oil and gas development,” Walker said.

The resources in Alaska were explained this way by the Interior Department:

The National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska is the largest block of federally managed land in the United States. In 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the NPR-A contained approximately 895 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 52.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. On February 21, 2013, the Secretary of the Interior signed a Record of Decision approving the Integrated Activity Plan for the NPR-A, which sets forth the Bureau of Land Management’s plan for future management of the area. That plan made approximately 11 million of the NPR-A’s 22.8 million acres unavailable for leasing, potentially precluding development of up to 350 million barrels of oil and 45 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the 19 million-acre ANWR is the largest unexplored, potentially productive geologic onshore basin in the United States. The primary area of potential oil and gas exploration is on the Section 1002 Area of ANWR, which was specifically set aside by Congress and the President in 1980 because of its potential for oil and natural gas development.

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