The deeply flawed management plan revision for the Western Arctic  

Deadline Extended till February 5, 2020!

The revision of the current management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, called the Integrated Activity Plan (IAP), is available for public comment until February 5, 2020. The Special Areas of the Reserve that are currently protected from industrialization, including Teshekpuk Lake, Colville River, Utukok River Uplands, Peard Bay, and Kasegaluk Lagoon, reflect an understanding and awareness that people, animals and plants depend on interconnected natural ecosystems, not fragmented migratory routes and watersheds. New information since the IAP was adopted in 2013, including increasing threats from climate change, underscores the critical importance and sensitivity of this landscape and demonstrates a need for increasing, not decreasing, protections.

The BLM offers 4 alternatives, leaving no question that the motivation for redoing this IAP is to make more land available for extractive industry. Alternatives C and D are both far more sympathetic to industry desires, and D goes so far as to offer 81% of the NPR-A and the entire Teshekpuk Lake Special Area for lease. The alternatives BLM offers are false, limited choices. All the alternatives lead to more extraction, and none do enough to protect our resources.

Other concerns with this plan: 

  • The administration is barreling ahead to open more of Alaska to oil and gas exploitation, regardless of cumulative impacts to our climate, communities, and ecosystem health.
  • In the midst of a climate crisis, the Arctic faces plenty of threats without this attempt to open additional areas to oil and gas. Climate change must be addressed in the EIS, as is required under NEPA. We must incorporate impacts on permafrost, erosion, vegetation, ecosystem changes, impacts to infrastructure, and health into analysis of development impacts, including direct, indirect, and cumulative. 
  • Even under the existing IAP, there are unacceptable impacts to our climate, animals, water, land, and people, due to the rapid increase of oil activities in the Reserve. BLM should consider a more protective alternative.
  • All action alternatives propose opening additional areas in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area to oil and gas leasing and industrial activity, and all eliminate the Colville River Special Area. BLM should instead strengthen protections for these special areas, not undermine or erase them from the map.
  • The Western Arctic and Teshekpuk Caribou Herds provide key subsistence resources to numerous communities in the Reserve and across northwest Alaska. Areas like Teshekpuk Lake and the Utukok River Uplands Special Area provide important habitat for these herds and other species.

The Bureau of Land Management held a series of public meetings around Alaska in December and January, where comments were overwhelmingly in opposition to this plan. 

Click here for detailed talking points to help as you draft your comments, and be sure to submit by Wednesday, February 5. 

A History of Protection

The existing IAP, completed in 2013, is far from perfect, but its creation represented a step towards science-based management, that accounted for human, plant, and animal needs for intact ecosystems, not interrupted migratory routes and fragmented watersheds.

The BLM’s record of decision for the 2013 plan states that it “balances the secretary’s responsibilities to provide for oil and gas leasing and to protect and conserve the important surface resources and uses of the Reserve.” Industry lobbyists are gaslighting the American public by now calling for a “more balanced” plan, and revising the IAP. The desire to exploit the large oil reserves discovered in 2015 and 2017 in the Nanushuk formation that underlies the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area is the true impetus for this rewrite. Seeking to open more areas to leasing is not “more balance”; it is tipping the scales in favor of industry. 

Along with a strong national coalition, we sent out a press release explaining why this is unacceptable:

“The current IAP was only recently completed, after years of working on a compromise, and yet this administration is determined to see Arctic Alaska only as a place to exploit for industrial profit,” said Ryan Marsh, Arctic Program Coordinator for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center. “The Reserve is home to some of the richest lands and waters in Alaska, including Teshekpuk Lake and its surrounding wetlands. It is home to hundreds of species of migratory birds, caribou, polar bears, as well as the communities who have been stewards of these lands since long before they were designated a ‘petroleum reserve.’ Given all we know about the Western Arctic, and all we know about the impacts of climate change, especially in the North, it’s insulting and destructive that our government is advocating for more extraction, not less.

On December 8, Ryan Marsh wrote an op-ed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner explaining the legislative history of what is now called the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska: 

In 1923, Warren Harding designated a large portion of Alaska’s Western Arctic — now the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska — the Naval Petroleum Reserve #4, in case of war time need as the Navy transitioned from coal to oil.

This designation was largely speculative, as detailed surveys had yet to be conducted, and potential oil reserves remained uncertain for decades despite continued exploration (even today). Despite this uncertainty about oil prospects, Western science has gained greater understanding of the unparalleled richness of the region’s rivers, wetlands, and tundra, and the area continues to support the Alaska Native communities who have relied on it for millennia.

The lands and waters included in the IAP are impacted by current and proposed oil and gas extraction around the Western Arctic. Residents of Nuiqsut, who know perhaps better than anyone what it’s like to live next door to the oil and gas industry, are raising concerns about the increase in cancer and respiratory illnesses in the community, as well as impacts to food security and access to clean water. Last month, the North Slope Borough planning commission voted against proposed rezoning for the Nanushuk project owned by Papua New Guinea-based Oil Search, where former Dept. of Interior assistant secretary for lands and minerals, Joe Balash, now serves as Sr. Vice President of External Affairs. “It’s not just one project,” said Nuiqsut’s borough representative Sam Kunaknana. “It’s everything that’s going on around this area.”

We’ve known from the start that the administration’s rush for more Arctic drilling would not move ahead without local opposition and legal challenges. The record of decision and call for nominations on leasing the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which earlier this year was anticipated this fall, continues to be delayed due to recognition of its deep flaws.  

That said, we are very confident that Alaskans and our allies will continue to defend these sacred lands, and keep the oil industry out.

Additional Resources

Sovereign Iñupiat For A Living Arctic – A wealth of resources, videos clips, podcasts and more detailing the values of Iñupiaq Peoples fighting to protect their homelands – Maps, news stories, reports, and dives into the values protected by the Special Areas of the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska.

Nuiqsut, a village on the border of the NPRA, has been utterly transformed as it has been surround by the oil industry. Juliet Eilperin details what these changes mean for the people of that village.

Our public input process is broken – Martha Raynolds, an arctic ecologist, explains that you shouldn’t need to be an expert to comment on public lands decisions. Your experiences and values matter, and it is important to express them. 


Northern Alaska Environmental Center

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