U.S. Interior Department Moves to Block Some Oil and Gas Leasing on Alaska’s North Slope

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

The Interior Department announced yesterday that it intends to block oil and gas leasing on about 11 million acres on Alaska’s North Slope, an area previously set aside for fossil fuel development, according to yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, U.S. Moves to Restrict Oil Leasing in Alaska.

Per the Journal:

The action, announced in connection with a federal lawsuit brought by environmentalists, would reverse a Trump administration effort to expand oil production in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

The reserve had been set aside for oil and gas development in the 1920s. Under former President Barack Obama, the federal government restricted oil and gas development to 11.8 million acres of the reserve.

The Trump administration moved to expand that to 18.6 million acres, saying developing the resources would improve the nation’s energy security and boost the Alaskan economy.

Now, I give some credit to the Interior Department for its decision, but nonetheless point out that the agency was prodded by an outside lawsuit to take action. According to the WSJ:

That drew a lawsuit from environmental groups. President Biden ordered a review, and on Monday Interior officials said that cutting back the area that can be leased will benefit threatened and endangered species without offering specifics.

Its decision would revert to the Obama-era plan for the region, restoring restrictions on the 7 million acres of land the Trump administration had planned to open up.

Mr. Biden has been looking to restrict oil production from federal land as a way to reduce the planet-warming gases that cause climate change.

The Biden administration had pledged during the campaign to undertake a more comprehensive review of federal oil and gas leasing policy but has yet to fulfil that promise. While there’s no question of Biden pursuing the drill baby drill policy the Trump administration promoted, nor is it doing much more than maintaining a holding pattern. The Journal reported:

Mr. Biden has been under pressure from environmental groups to fulfill a campaign pledge to ban new permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land and offshore.

“That still falls far short of what the administration’s commitments are on climate,” said Jeremy Lieb, a lawyer with nonprofit Earthjustice, of Monday’s announcement.

Mr. Biden has also suspended oil leasing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a largely untouched 19 million acres on the opposite side of Alaska’s Arctic, in the northeast corner of the state.

Congress in 2017 gave the industry long-sought-after access to the refuge, but Biden administration officials are reviewing options for potentially undoing leases the Trump administration had awarded under that 2017 law.

Legacy of Bipartisan Failure on Fossil Fuel Development and Climate Change

As welcome as the Biden reversal of Trump policy is, it’s important not to obscure the climate change failures of both parties. Although Democratic and Republican policies on North Slope fossil fuel leases, differ somewhat,even Democratic policy falls far short of a moratorium on further development. Projected near-term production levels on the North Slope carry perils for the planet. As The Frontiersman reported in North Slope oil production holds steady as two new ConocoPhillips projects ramp up:

North Slope oil production is holding steady and is set for an increase in January with two new ConocoPhilllips projects ramping up.

ConocoPhillips started production Dec. 12 at GMT-2, an accumulation in the National Petroleum Reserve west of the Alpine field, and on Dec. 14, the company began sustained production at Narwhal, an oil accumulation extending south of the Alpine field.

As production from both projects is gradually throttled up there will be an increase in total slope production through the spring.

The Prudhoe Bay field in northern Alaska showed continued production increases in December, year-over-year, while other North Slope fields lagged mostly due to natural decline.

While overall slope production held steady, Prudhoe Bay, operated by Houston-based major independent Hilcorp Energy, saw an increase, averaging 326,262 barrels per day in December, up from 311,172 barrels per day on average the same month a year earlier and 295,417 barrels per day on average in December, 2019.

Other fields on the slope, including Kuparuk River, second largest on the slope and the smaller Lisburne field, showed declines.

Long-standing readers know that I was never fooled by the sleight-of-hand often practiced by Trump’s predecessor, my law school classmate, on many issues. I was well inoculated against his modus operandi during our student years, as I wrote in Don’t Be An Obamamometer: Support Naked Capitalism and Critical Thinking.

The man has received undue acclaim for his climate change policies, which if looked at more than cursorily, failed miserably. Only when measured against those of Trump – a very low bar – do they appear to have any merit. On fossil fuels, as in so many other areas, he did as he usually did, and said one thing while doing another – as if good PR is all that’s necessary to solve difficult problems.

On fossil fuels, he was especially shameless, taking a public victory lap once out of office for promoting the oil and gas industry. I’m far from alone in noticing this reality, either. See this recent David Sirota tweet:

For those of you with a stomach for smug self-congratulation, here’s evidence straight from the source:

There’s no denying that Biden’s Interior Department is rolling back Trumpian excess. Sorry to say that plans for North Slope fossil fuels development are still too little, too late, with development of  half the acreage in the National Petroleum Reserve proceeding untrammelled. Yet at least Biden’s not preaching one thing and lauding its opposite at formal events. I suppose that’s progress.

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6 comments

  1. John Zelnicker

    Leave it in the ground!

    It seems that some of those older fields in Alaska are finally starting to run out. Thus the push by industry to get more leases.

    Politicians and lobbyists always talk about America’s Energy Security(TM) as an important reason to keep and expand drilling. Are we feeling a little insecure about oil exporters halting deliveries to us because of our bullying foreign policy? We seem to be pissing off almost everyone, allies and purported enemies alike. With Russia and China working together so closely in so many areas, the era of the unipolar world revolving around the US may finally start coming to an end in the foreseeable future.

    Sanctions can be imposed by any country, particularly those who export resources and goods that we need. Perhaps a bit of tit-for-tat would wake up some of the bullies like Blinken, Nuland, Rice, etc. (Nah, bullies don’t listen and they don’t change.)

    Reply
    1. Synoia

      Are we feeling a little insecure about oil exporters halting deliveries to us because of our bullying foreign policy?

      No

      Are we feeling a little insecure about oil profits? and the accompanying “Donations” to various of our elected?

      Yes

      Reply
      1. John Zelnicker

        Good point, Synoia. Gotta keep giving the oil & gas companies more tax goodies and subsidies so they’ll continuing funding campaigns.

        Reply
  2. Lenniesbunnyranch

    Only reason he’d even consider this is pressure from environmentalists. Obama tried to hand over the Arctic to Shell on multiple occasions before Greenpeace started ruining corporate deals with Lego and blocking ships/rigs from leaving port in the PNW.

    Standard procedure for any mainstream Dem’s “environmental policy,” is taking credit for oil losing a fight.

    Reply

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