US restricts future oil leasing in NPR-A

  • : Crude oil
  • 24/04/19

President Joe Biden's administration today finalized a rule to prohibit future oil leasing on nearly half of the 23mn-acre National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), adding to a flurry of recent environmental regulations that have frustrated oil interests.

The rule will make it harder for oil producers to expand beyond development in the northeast section of NPR-A, where ConocoPhillips is developing its $8bn Willow drilling project. The rule outright bans new leasing on 10.6mn acres of the reserve, including around the ecologically sensitive Teshekpuk lake "special area" that is believed to hold large volumes of crude. The rule also restricts future leasing on an additional 2mn acres in the NPR-A that includes other special areas.

"These natural wonders demand our protection," Biden said. "I am proud that my administration is taking action to conserve more than 13mn acres in the western Arctic."

The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) said it received more than 100,000 comments on its proposal to limit oil leasing in the NPR-A, a federal area established in 1923 where commercial oil production began only in 2015. The restrictions came after former president Donald Trump tried to increase drilling in the NPR-A through a plan to allow leasing on an additional 7mn acres, including around Teshekpuk lake.

With the rule complete, BLM said it plans to solicit input on whether to revise the boundaries of the "special areas" and identify additional lands in NPR-A that could qualify for protection. Biden administration officials previously described the rule as creating a "one-way ratchet" for conservation that a new administration could not reverse.

The rule will not affect existing oil and gas leases in NPR-A, including Biden's decision in 2023 to approve the Willow project, which is expected to reach a peak output of 180,000 b/d and that environmentalists strongly opposed. BLM said the 10.6mn acres of NPR-A that it closed to leasing has only medium or low potential for oil and gas resources.

Environmentalists cheered the new NPR-A restrictions, with Sierra Club executive director Ben Jealous calling it a "major victory" for the arctic. But oil industry groups say the restrictions are a step in the wrong direction, adding to other recent regulations they say will make it hard to produce energy on federal land. BLM recently finalized more stringent bonding requirements for onshore and offshore land, in addition to finalizing a plan to lease federal land for conservation.

"This misguided rule from the Biden administration sharply limits future oil and natural gas development in Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, a region explicitly intended by Congress to bolster America's energy security," American Petroleum Institute senior vice president of regulatory affairs Dustin Meyer said.

The administration has been working to finish regulations in recent weeks ahead of an upcoming deadline where any rule could be subject to "disapproval" in 2025 under the Congressional Review Act. The exact deadline remains in flux because it depends on how long the US Congress stays in session, but it could arrive as early as next month.

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