A polar bear sow and two cubs are seen on the shores of the Beaufort Sea within the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
US Fish and Wildlife Service | Reuters
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 shards of public land for oil and gas drilling.
The Bureau of Land Management’s decision will reduce the amount of land available for rent in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, an area of about 23 million acres that is home to wildlife such as reindeer 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 efforts to open 82% of the earth for drilling. It will also reintroduce some environmental protections for designated areas of the reserve, including Lake Teshekpuk, a wetland complex that is uniquely rich in wildlife.
The move comes after the number of oil and gas permits approved by the Bureau of Land Management for drilling on public land fell to the 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 to the U.S. Navy. In 1976, the Naval Petroleum Reserve 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 rental revenues in 2019, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Oil and gas production on the reserve has the potential to release over 5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon released across the country in 2019, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Kristen Monsell, Ocean’s legal director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said the Biden administration’s turnaround is not enough to solve the climate crisis and end new fossil fuel extraction.
“More Arctic drilling also means more oil spills, more polluted communities and more damage to polar bears and other vulnerable wildlife,” Monsell said in a statement. “Biden officials can and must use their power to help us avoid catastrophic climate change and support the transition to a just, sustainable economy.”