Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed an order to “jump-start” oil production in Alaska by reversing an Obama administration plan to restrict drilling by half in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A).
Interior officials will revise the current Integrated Activity Plan for NPR-A. Zinke also ordered officials to update energy resource assessments for the North Slope and the “1002” area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The Obama administration finalized current plans for NPR-A in 2013, which made half of the reserve off-limits to oil and gas development. Zinke’s order will help “jump-start” oil production in the region, according to an Interior Department release.
“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,” Zinke said.
Zinke signed the order on his trip to Alaska where he met with local officials, including North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower, Jr., whose borough includes NPR-A and ANWR.
The NPR-A is the largest block of land owned by the federal government, covering 22.8 million acres. Experts estimate that the region holds 895 million barrels of oil and 52.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.
“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.”
Zinke travelled with Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and other lawmakers who have been pushing for increased energy production.
Alaska Republicans have long pushed for opening up ANWR’s 1002 area and other regions to drilling to raise revenue and support local tribes struggling with poverty,
Environmentalists have consistently opposed more oil and gas drilling in the NPR-A and ANWR. President Donald Trump’s budget calls for more oil and gas drilling in Alaska, including the “1002” area of ANWR.
The “1002” area makes up less one percent of ANWR, which is 19 million acres. The region is estimated to hold 12 billion barrels of oil, but that’s based on a resource assessment from 1998.
The big question is whether or not oil and gas companies will rush to reinvest in Arctic energy, as oil prices are lower than when the Obama administration finalized its 2013 drilling plan for the region.
Interest in the region piqued in March when Spanish oil giant Repsol made the biggest onshore oil find in three decades on the North Slope.
Repsol predicted that “production could begin as soon as 2021 and lead to as much as 120,000 barrels of output per day,” CNN reported.
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