Trump administration takes steps to open more of the NPR-A to oil and gas production

Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke signs an order to review NPR-A development plans approved under the Obama administration during the annual Alaska Oil and Gas Association conference in May, 2017.

The Trump administration is taking the first steps toward opening more of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to oil production, making good on a promise made by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke during his May visit to Alaska.

The Bureau of Land Management issued a notice on Monday that will allow companies and individuals to nominate any unleased tracts of land in the NPR-A for a future lease sale. That includes land currently unavailable for leasing under a 2013 decision by the Obama administration.

The public comment period runs for a month and closes on Sept. 6.

Though the move won’t open the land in the immediate future, it will set the course for the Interior Department to reconsider the 2013 decision. Zinke signed a secretarial order during his May visit to Alaska calling for the feds to reconsider the plan and also look into the development of the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“This is land that was set up with the sole intention of oil and gas production, however years of politics over policy put roughly half of the NPR-A off-limits,” Zinke said at the time. “Using this land for its original intent will create good paying jobs and revenue for our Northern-most city and strengthen our energy and national security.”

The NPR-A is home to many recent sizable developments on the North Slope, including by ConocoPhillips, Repsol and Caelus. However, the region set aside by the Obama administration has had long-standing environmental concerns, particularly in the region surrounding Teshekpuk Lake in the northeast region of the reserve.

Teshekpuk Lake stands to be a significant challenge particularly for Caelus, which last year announced a massive find in the Smith Bay area just northwest of the lake. The find could hold as much as 19 billion barrels according to early estimates.

Health care in the rear view

This all of course comes two weeks after Zinke made headlines for reportedly threatening pro-development efforts in Alaska as the administration’s response to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s refusal to go along with the Obamacare repeal.

Last week, Zinke laughed off such threats and later grabbed a beer with Murkowski as an apparent show of solidarity (though the Interior Department’s own Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation into the claim).

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