The Biden administration reversed a Trump-era policy Monday that massively expanded the area available for fossil fuel leasing even as gasoline prices remained near an all-time high.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a record of decision, reducing the land available for energy leasing in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) to its level set in 2013. In June 2020, former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt finalized a decision allowing 18.6 million acres, or 82%, of the NPR-A’s subsurface estate to be open for oil and gas leasing.
The average price of gasoline nationwide increased to $4.13 per gallon on Tuesday, remaining near its all-time high, according to AAA data. Pump prices have surged throughout President Joe Biden’s first 15 months in office.
“Today’s decision ensures the NPR-A will be managed consistent with the 2013 [Integrated Activity Plan], while including certain more protective lease stipulations and operating procedures for threatened and endangered species … confirmed through consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service,” the BLM said in its announcement Monday.
The decision reduces land available by roughly 7 million acres, or approximately 36%, of the oil-rich area designated by the Trump administration. While the Biden administration’s decision was influenced by conservation, the Trump administration decision had factored wildlife protection into its ruling.
For example, the Trump-era decision closed the Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay Special Areas, according to the Department of the Interior (DOI). It also implemented restrictions on another area to mitigate impacts on “caribou calving and important bird habitats.”
“We’ve looked to open up some additional areas to leasing based on new information while also using management prescriptions to protect important wildlife, habitat, and subsistence uses,” former BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said at the time.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has paused oil and gas leasing in the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ditched a drilling project in Alaska that would have produced 100,000 barrels of oil per day, generated $10 billion in government revenue and created 2,000 construction jobs. Both moves represented reversals of Trump administration actions.
Biden has also canceled the Keystone XL pipeline permit, introduced fossil fuel regulations and his administration has proposed to make it harder for utilities to receive natural gas project approvals. Earlier this month, the DOI finally complied with a June 2021 court order forcing it to resume federal oil and gas leasing, but reduced land available by 80% and hiked royalty rates for drillers.
The DOI declined to comment Tuesday.