Thousands weigh in on opening more of NPRA
In May, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order to open up new parts of Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA). Zinke set a 21-day deadline for a new schedule on revising the Integrated Activities Plan in the NPRA.
Fast-forward three months, and still no schedule. But Wednesday marked another step in that direction. For the last month, the Bureau of Land Management has been asking for public comments on leasing in the area. That's not uncommon, but what is, is that now the department is asking the public to weigh in on parts that are currently closed.
“Offering all tracts for nomination is in response to the Secretary’s Order and will jump-start Alaskan energy production in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska,” said Katharine MacGregor, Acting Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals Management, in a press release.
The BLM has since received thousands of comments from both sides of the controversy.
Wildlife conservation groups like Audubon, which focuses primarily on bird habitat, say certain parts of the NPRA, such as the area around Teshekpuk Lake must be protected.
"It's one of the premier bird spots in the NPRA, in the entire Alaska coastal plain as well as the entire Circumpolar Arctic, explained Susan Culliney, Audubon's policy director. "Even internationally, it's very important."
The oil industry and supporters of new development in the area agree conservation is important, but so is the economy.
"It was an area that was designated for petroleum development. It is a petroleum reserve," said Kara Moriarty, President and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. "It's really important for the state of Alaska. This is about creating jobs, it's about creating opportunity and continuing to operate in a manner that's consistent with the lifestyle of the people of the North Slope."
The BLM says it's all up for consideration. Those comments will get filed away until the federal government is ready for a next step.
After compiling all of Wednesday's comments, the BLM says it will then select which areas companies can bid on in October.