Trump administration opens sensitive Arctic areas to oil development

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The Trump administration on Thursday released its plan to open environmentally sensitive areas in Arctic Alaska to oil development, overturning some protections that go back decades.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt speak during an event touting the administration's environmental policy in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

The plan released by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management revokes an Obama-era management system for a huge swathe of federal land on the western North Slope, the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.

The Trump plan, contained in a final environmental impact statement, opens 18.7 million acres of the 23 million-acre reserve to development. The Obama-ere plan in effect since 2013 allowed oil development on about half of the reserve.

Administration officials said the action is needed to boost oil production.

“President Trump has committed to expand access to our Nation’s great energy potential,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said.

The process to upend the Obama-era protections began at the start of the Trump administration with an order from then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to open more of the Arctic to development. The order also included the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and offshore waters.

The new National Petroleum Reserve plan allows oil development on all of Teshekpuk Lake, the biggest lake on the North Slope, famous for its migratory bird and caribou populations. It also allows development in new areas along the Colville River. Protections for those areas date back to the 1970s.

The new plan could result in up to 20 years of new oil production of up to 500,000 barrels per day, supported by 240 miles of pipelines, 250 miles of roads and assorted drill pads and other industrial sites, the BLM’s document said.

Environmentalists and Native activists condemned the plan.

“Communities in the region already face unacceptable impacts on health, food security, and cultural sovereignty due to existing industry activity,” said a statement released by 10 environmental and Native organizations.

Editing by Richard Valdmanis