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Biden Administration to Scrap Trump-era Plan to Expand Drilling in National Petroleum Reserve




The administration of President Joe Biden announced its intent to reverse a decision made by the prior Trump  administration to open up vast swathes of the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve, or NPR-A, to new exploration and production.

“This decision reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s priority of reviewing existing oil and gas programs to ensure balance on America’s public lands and waters to benefit current and future generations,” the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said in its January 10 announcement of the decision.

Reserve History

The 23,599,999 acre NPR-A was created by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 as the Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4, at a time when the United States was Navy was converting its fleet to run on oil rather than coal.

It was renamed the “National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska” and transferred from the Navy to the Department of the Interior in 1976, to be managed by the BLM.

Although, the 1980 Interior Department Appropriations Act directed the BLM to conduct oil and gas leasing throughout most of the reserve, most of the area remained unexplored until the 1990s.

In pursuit of President Donald Trump’s stated desire for United States “Energy Dominance,” the Trump administration’s BLM developed a plan to allow oil leasing and development on more than 80 percent of the reserve. This replaced the previous Obama administration’s plan that limited exploration and production to less than half of the reserve.

The BLM’s announcement that it was reversing the Trump-era changes, comes amidst ongoing litigation over the expansion pushed by Trump.

The BLM has stated it will tell the court it does not think it needs to undertake a new environmental review, as demanded in the lawsuits filed by various environmental groups, and is instead planning to publish a new “record of decision” formally establishing a new policy moving forward after it undertakes a series of endangered species consultations.

‘Energy Policy is Nonsensical’

Proponents of leasing of most or all of the lands included in the NPR-A, such as Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the American Energy Alliance, point to the fact that the reserve was specifically set aside for petroleum production, with oil supplies there being essential to national security and the national economy.

The BLM’s action makes no sense, especially in the light of the fact that the Biden administration has admitted a strategic petroleum shortage by opting to tap the strategic reserve recently, says Kish.

“It makes no sense to prevent exploration and production an area specifically dedicated to petroleum production, unless, of course, one is trying to shut down all new supplies of American energy in a bid to drive up costs to consumers and force them to buy Chinese manufactured supposedly green energy technologies, like wind turbines, solar panels, and batteries,” said Kish. “The Biden administration energy policy is nonsensical but not entirely surprising in the light of its climate commitments, because its goal is to force the United States to switch to unreliable renewable energy sources from tried, true, and bountiful domestic supplies oil, gas, and coal.”

Investments and Jobs Lost

Extreme swings in leasing policy are devastating to the petroleum industry and the economy, as a whole, says Kish.

“Conoco Phillips has been stopped from spending billions of dollars in Alaska in some nearby areas in the Petroleum Reserve by the Biden administration’s unwillingness to support leasing there,” Kish said. “That’s billions in American wages, equipment, and technical expertise that will be spent abroad that could be employing Americans and making us more energy secure.

“The Biden administration has declared all-out war on American energy even as they beg OPEC and Russia to produce more,” Kish said. “It represents a dangerous change of fortunes.”

Move Ideologically Driven

This is yet another in a long line of ideologically driven policies that are detached from economic reality, and as a result end up harming average Americans, says Timothy Benson, a policy analyst with The Heartland Institute, which co-published Environment & Climate News.

“To normal people, the Biden administration’s move to block new production in NPR-A would make no sense, and would seem extremely foolhardy,” Benson said. “Unfortunately, this   administration is filled with people who believe fossil fuels are an unnecessary evil and that getting rid of them will save the planet.

“No matter how obviously shortsighted it may seem, they will shoot themselves in the foot over and over again on energy issues because they believe in the long run they will be proved right,” said Benson. “However, the bottom line is oil and natural gas deposits found in the NPR-A are abundant, inexpensive for consumers compared to other kinds of energy, environmentally safe, and can ensure the United States is the world’s largest energy producer well beyond the 21st century. We should be opening up as many avenues for access to these deposits as we can, not closing them off.” 


Kevin Stone ( writes from Arlington, Texas