The Biden administration announced major restrictions on offshore oil leasing in the Arctic Ocean and across Alaska’s North Slope supposedly to temper criticism from environmentalists over a pending decision on an oil drilling project in Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve known as Willow and to form a “firewall” to limit future oil leases in the region. The Interior Department said it would issue new rules to block oil and gas leases on more than 55 percent of the 23 million acres that form the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and bar drilling in nearly 3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea — closing it off from oil exploration. The restricted area of over 16 million acres is about the size of West Virginia. The Willow project, if approved, would take place inside the petroleum reserve, which is located about 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The National Petroleum Reserve was established in 1912 as a backup source of oil for the federal government, originally for the Navy, as it was at one time referred to as the Naval Petroleum Reserve. Four sites in the country comprised the Naval Petroleum Reserve. The fourth site is on the North Slope of Alaska.
President Biden is to declare the entire U.S. Arctic Ocean off limits to new oil and gas leasing and make over 13 million acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska off limits for new leases. Drilling restrictions would extend to the Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon, and Peard Bay Special Areas. The action completes energy withdrawals for the entire Beaufort Sea Planning Area, building upon President Barack Obama’s restrictions. In 2015, President Barack Obama halted exploration in coastal areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, and he later withdrew most other potential Arctic Ocean lease areas — about 98 percent of the Arctic outer continental shelf thought to be rich in energy resources.
The new rules would not affect the Willow project because ConocoPhillips already owns the leases. The $8 billion Willow project would produce up to 180,000 barrels a day of oil or about 600 million barrels of oil over 30 years—oil that the United States and its allies need as U.S. exports of oil have hit record levels and as bans exist on purchasing oil and oil products from Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine.
Alaska lawmakers, unions and indigenous communities are arguing for Biden to approve the Willow project because it would bring jobs and billions of dollars in taxes and mitigation funds to the region located about 600 miles from Anchorage. The space that the Willow drilling project would need would be about the size of a postage stamp on a football field—that is, infinitesimal. Alaska’s Senator Dan Sullivan called Willow “one of the biggest, most important resource development projects in our state’s history.”
According to Mike Dunleavy, Governor of Alaska, “Unfortunately, the federal government under this administration has declared war on Alaska. We have at least 42 actions against us by the Biden administration. I think if you really take an objective look at how we’re treated by our federal government, one could quickly surmise that we are actually treated worse than some foreign nations such as Venezuela and Iran.” Further, he says, “If you care about the environment, we need to produce resources in Alaska. If you care about social justice, we need to produce resources here in Alaska. If you care about enriching people and not dictators, we need to produce resources here in Alaska.”
The Department of Interior distributed the revenues of the respective state collected from oil, gas, renewable energy and mineral production on federal lands within the states’ borders and from offshore oil and gas tracts in federal waters. Alaska received $45 million in fiscal year 2022—less than 60 percent of what Texas received despite having massive federal lands rich in resources while Texas has a small percentage of lands in federal ownership. New Mexico received over 60 times as much in revenue from energy than Alaska did in fiscal 2022.
In order to appease those who want the United States to keep American energy in the ground, President Biden is proposing to close an area the size of West Virginia to oil and gas drilling. In return, he may allow a small project—Willow– to move forward in what should have been a caveat-free executive decision.
Europe is clearly in an energy crisis that the United States can lessen through the production of domestic oil and natural gas. The Biden administration says it wants more oil production, but at every turn it squashes the industry’s ability to produce more. President Biden should be focused on strengthening U.S. energy security and supporting the responsible development of federal lands and waters – not acting to restrict it. The United States has one of the best environmental records on oil and gas production, as this IER report indicates. Biden’s restrictions on the development of Alaska’s oil and gas resources will just move the production to countries that have poor environmental records and increase prices for U.S. consumers and its allies, all in the name of appeasing his climate change base.