Salazar: 28% of ‘Recoverable Oil ‘ Now Off-Limits in National Petroleum Reserve

By Penny Starr | March 5, 2013 | 12:34 PM EST

One of the last things Interior Secretary Ken Salazar did before leaving his post was to put into place a plan to regulate the National Petroleum Reserve, including putting some of it off-limits to oil and gas production. ( Starr)

( – Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar signed a directive that places 28 percent of the “estimated economically recoverable oil” in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska off-limits. The 22.8-million acre reserve in Alaska’s North Slope has been protected as an oil resource for the United States since 1923.

Salazar signed the Record of Decision (ROD) on Feb. 21, marking the first time a plan has been implemented to regulate all of the reserve, including the decision to “protect” some of the land for Native Alaskans and wildlife.

“As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand domestic energy production, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today signed the Record of Decision (ROD) for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A),” the announcement says. “The final action allows for the development of 72 percent of the estimated economically recoverable oil in the nearly 23-million-acre Reserve, while protecting the vital subsistence resources of Alaska Natives and the habitat of world-class wildlife populations.”

The other 28 percent of the estimated economically recoverable oil would not be open for development.

“The balanced approach under this plan is the result of extensive local input and will help guide the responsible production and transport of the substantial oil and gas resources in and around the Reserve,” Salazar said in a press release making the announcement. “This comprehensive plan will allow us to continue to expand our leasing in the NPR-A, as has happened over the last three years, while protecting the outstanding and unique resources that are critically important to the culture and subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Natives and our nation’s conservation heritage.”

Critics of the decision – on both sides of the aisle – charge that the move is not in the best interest of Americans, including those who live in Alaska.

(AP Photo/Peter Leonard)

“As gasoline prices continue to increase for the 34th day in a row, the Obama Administration has responded by locking up a majority of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which Congress specifically established for oil and natural gas production,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee said in a statement about the plan. “Only in President Obama’s backwards worldview of anti-energy policies does it make sense to prohibit energy production in a place specifically set aside for energy production at a time when gasoline prices are skyrocketing and federal oil and natural gas production is declining.”

Sen. Mark Begich, (D-Alaska) said a request from the village of Nuiqsut, a mostly Alaskan Native community located in the reserve, for more area south of Teshekpuk Lake to be made available for leasing, was ignored by the Interior Department.

"No one disputes the importance of Teshekpuk Lake to waterfowl and caribou, but I think we should listen most closely to those who live there and depend on both these critical subsistence resources as well as the economic opportunity resource development can bring," Begich said in a statement.

Hastings’ statement noted that according to conservative estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey, there are over 2.7 billion barrels of oil and 114.36 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the NPR-A.

In 2011, the Natural Resources Committee “passed bipartisan legislation to create jobs, expand energy production and lower energy costs by ensuring that oil and natural gas resources in the NPR-A are developed and transported in a timely, efficient manner,” Hastings’ press release states.

“The Final IAP/EIS for the NPR-A, released in December 2012, was developed through extensive consultations that considered the viewpoints of Alaskans who live in the region, tribal governments, the State of Alaska, industry, environmental organizations and other stakeholders and federal partners,” the text on the Interior decision reads.