The Biden administration on Monday reversed a Trump administration plan that would have allowed the government to lease more than two-thirds of the country’s largest swath of public land to oil and gas drilling.
The Bureau of Land Management’s decision will shrink the amount of land available for lease in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, a roughly 23 million acre region that’s home to wildlife like caribou and polar bears.
The decision returns to an Obama administration plan that allows fossil fuel extraction in up to 52% of the reserve, compared to the Trump administration’s effort to open up 82% of the land to drilling. It will also reinstate some environmental protections for designated areas of the reserve, including Teshekpuk Lake, a wetland complex that is uniquely rich with wildlife.
The move comes after the number of oil and gas permits approved by the Bureau of Land Management for drilling on public lands declined to its lowest number under the Biden administration earlier this year.
In 1923, former President Warren G. Harding set aside the reserve as an emergency oil supply for the U.S. Navy. In 1976, the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act designated the area specifically for oil and gas production and moved it under the authority of the Bureau of Land Management.
The reserve generated more than $56 million in oil and gas lease revenue in 2019, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Oil and gas production on the reserve has the potential to release over 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon released in the entire country in 2019, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director of the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Biden administration’s reversal isn’t enough to address the climate crisis and end new fossil fuel extraction.
“More Arctic drilling also means more oil spills, more polluted communities and more harm to polar bears and other vulnerable wildlife,” Monsell said in a statement. “Biden officials can and must use their power to help us avoid disastrous climate change and support the transition to a just, renewable economy.”