ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – The Trump administration said on Tuesday it will be auctioning off nearly 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) of land in Arctic Alaska for oil development next month, and it is promising much more territory will be open to development in the future.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that its annual oil and gas lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska will be held on Dec. 11. The sale will be the 15th in a series of oil lease sales held by the BLM for that region on the western side of Alaska’s North Slope.
The BLM is also finishing up a draft plan to overturn Obama-era protections that put about half of the 23 million-acre (9.3 million-hectare) reserve off limits to oil development, citing needs to protect caribou, migratory birds and other resources important to the region’s indigenous people and to the nation.
The Trump administration and the oil industry argue the Obama plan is too restrictive and needs to be replaced.
“With advancements in drilling technology, it was prudent to develop a new plan that provides for greater economic development of our resources while still providing protections for important resources, such as subsistence uses,” Chad Padgett, BLM’s Alaska state director, said in a statement.
The reserve, which lies well to the west of the legacy Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oil fields, was undeveloped for decades.
Several recent discoveries have sparked a westward expansion of oil development on the North Slope, and the petroleum reserve – the largest single U.S. federal land unit – is seen as a promising region for new Alaska oil production.