Biden reverses Trump rule and shuts down half of Alaska oil reserve to new drilling

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Biden reverses Trump rule and shuts down half of Alaska oil reserve to new drilling
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The Biden administration has reversed a Trump-era rule and is shutting down almost half of a pristine Alaskan wildnerness area to fossil fuel drilling.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), an agency under the Department of Interior, announced on Monday the closure of 48 per cent of the federally-owned National Petroleum Reserve, located on the edge of Arctic Ocean, to oil and gas projects.

The new guidelines reverse a December 2020 rule, issued in the waning days of the Trump administration, which saw 82 per cent of the 36,000-square mile tract opened to oil and gas development.

The Biden administration guidelines revert back to those issued in 2013 under former President Barack Obama.

The new BLM rules come after President Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office putting a temporary moratorium on oil and gas lease activities on federal lands.

The National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska occupies most of the state’s western Arctic Ocean coastline, along with thousands of square miles of inland tundra. In addition to potential oil and gas deposits, the area is home to Arctic wildlife such as caribou (also known as reindeer), walrus and salmon, according to the non-profit Alaska Wilderness League.

The land is owned by the US government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

Unlike the nearby Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Petroleum Reserve was not created specifically for wildlife conservation but as a potential source of oil.

But the reserve contains ecologically-important areas nonetheless. The area around Teshekpuk Lake is a key habitat for the local caribou herd, as well as waterfowl like brant, the Alaska Wilderness League notes.

In addition, protections have been expanded around the Utukok River uplands, which is home to another caribou herd, as well as grizzly bears.

The reserve borders the communities of Wainwright, Nuiqsut, Atqasuk and Utqiagvik, the largest city on Alaska’s Arctic coastline with a population of almost 5,000 people. Many local residents are of Alaska Native descent.

The northern Alaska ecosystem is under immense threat from the climate crisis. The Arctic region is warming at more than twice the rate of the lower 48 states, according the US government’s latest national climate assessment.

The rapid heating, which is also causing the Arctic’s permafrost landscape to melt, is being driven by the burning of fossil fuels.

Alaska’s Republican Senator Dan Sullivan tweeted his displeasure at the new ruling. “@POTUS is NOT doing “all he can” to ease gas prices,” he tweeted.

Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the conservation non-profit the Center for Biological Diversity said in an emailed statement that the decision doesn’t do enough.

“Addressing the climate emergency means ending new fossil fuel extraction, and we can’t keep going in the opposite direction,” she wrote.

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