Protecting Birds and Caribou from Drilling in the Arctic
An unprecedented management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could help balance domestic oil production and conservation.
Meanwhile industry would like to see the entire reserve opened for leasing, as Alternative D calls for. "The alternatives offered in the IAP/EIS appear to refocus land management in NPR-A from multiple use to conservation, which is inconsistent with the primary purpose of the petroleum reserve," the Alaska Resource Development Council, an association of oil and gas, mining, forest products, tourism and fisheries industries, maintains on its website. "This is unacceptable for an area intended for oil and gas development."
Since the Reagan administration, the federal government has leased millions of acres to energy developers, while only protecting isolated areas temporarily. Environmentalists have focused on preventing drilling in the goose-molting and caribou calving grounds near Teshekpuk Lake--which might also hold the richest oil stores. In 2004, the George W. Bush administration sought to lease the area around Teshekpuk, triggering lawsuit from environmentalists. The result was a new management plan in 2008 that deferred any leasing on the most sensitive goose-molting wetlands until 2018.
"Teshekpuk Lake is an important bird area of global significance for various waterfowl, and it also has what is believed to be the highest density of shorebird nesting in the circumpolar Arctic," says Eric Myers, Audubon Alaska's policy director. Given the threat of potential oil development at Teshkepuk Lake, the region would benefit greatly from Alternative B. "[It] affords meaningful protection for the entire lake area, including waterfowl molting grounds. Under Alternative B no-lease protections would be expanded beyond critical waterfowl habitat to include the Teshekpuk caribou herd calving grounds.
Myers adds that the difference between the amount of oil potentially recovered under Alternative B, which conservationists support, and Alternative D, which the petroleum industry backs, is "essentially two weeks" at current consumption rates.
Furthermore, the USGS in 2010 drastically reduced its estimate of the NPR-A's crude oil reserves from more than 10 billion barrels to less than 1 billion barrels--a 90 percent drop. As a nation, the U.S. uses about 19.15 million barrels each day. The NPR-A also holds an estimated 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, though no pipeline exists to transport it.
"The reserves in the NPR-A are not going to play a significant role in meeting our energy needs," says Myers. "Why put at risk these regionally, nationally and globally sensitive areas and the wildlife that depend on them for a negligible amount of oil?"
The BLM is scheduled to issue its preferred alternative in November with a final decision this December.
Learn more about the Arctic from Taldi Walter, Audubon's Washington DC-based Alaska policy expert, in this Webinar (originally recorded on Monday, June 18, 2012; 42 minutes).
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Click here to send your comments supporting the "preferred alternative" B-2 to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.