Alaskan Arctic Wilderness Lake Closed to Oil and Gas Leasing

WASHINGTON, DC, May 20, 2008 (ENS) – In a plan released Friday, the Bureau of Land Management, BLM, announced that it will make land available for leasing in the northeast portion of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska that could yield nearly three billion barrels of oil. The planned leases could yield trillions of cubic feet of gas for shipment to North American markets through gas pipelines now in the planning stages, the BLM says.

The federal agency said it would not open environmentally sensitive Teshekpuk Lake and its islands to leasing, a possibility that has prompted years of objections from conservationists.

Teshekpuk extends across the heart of western Alaska’s arctic coastal plain. Most of western arctic Alaska is encompassed by the largest single piece of public land in the United States, the 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The BLM expects to hold a lease sale this fall for available portions of the northeast area, as well as portions of the northwest planning area.

“This plan provides a balanced approach to energy development and wildlife protection, and forms a solid basis for the Bureau of Land Management to proceed with an oil and gas lease sale later this year,” said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

According to the BLM’s Supplemental Final Integrated Activity Plan and Environment Impact Statement, the plan’s preferred alternative would also defer leasing for 10 years on 430,000 acres north and east of Teshekpuk Lake that are currently unavailable for leasing.

Teshekpuk Lake is shown in blue within the red outlines of the Northeast Planning Area. (Map courtesy BLM)

North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta expressed support for the plan’s deferral of acreage near Teshekpuk Lake. “BLM listened to local communities and it made the plan better,” Itta said. “The lease sale can proceed while one of the region’s most sensitive wildlife habitats will be protected. It’s a win-win.”

BLM-Alaska State Director Tom Lonnie agreed, saying, “We appreciate the collaboration of Mayor Itta and the North Slope Borough in the development of this plan. Their input will assist the BLM in the management of these important lands.”

“The strength of this improved and updated plan is its ability to adapt new information and new technology through its performance-based requirements,” said Lonnie.

“We know that the northeast area has significant oil and gas reserves that are important to our country, but we also recognize the importance of protecting the area’s wildlife values,” Lonnie said.

The plan includes protections for the polar bear, including requirements to consider impacts on areas used by the polar bears for denning. Additionally, with the listing of the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act earlier this week, the BLM will continue to work with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on future oil and gas activities.

The Wildlife Conservation Society, based at New York’s Bronx Zoo, has advocated for protection of the Teshekpuk region, which the society calls “a globally important site for wildlife in the Arctic.”

“This represents a significant conservation victory for arctic wildlife and demonstrates that there is room for both protection of key areas and for responsible energy development in the arctic coastal plain rich in natural resources,” said Dr. Steven Sanderson, president and chief executive of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Geese at Teshekpuk Lake (Photo ©
Gary Braasch courtesy Alaska
Wilderness League)

Huge populations of geese from Alaska, Canada, and Siberia are found near Lake Teshekpuk where they undergo a “flightless molt.” This molt is when birds temporarily shed flight feathers before migrating south, the most sensitive time for geese and their offspring. “Protection from development was urgently needed,” said Sanderson.

The Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd migrates here to calve their young and to find refuge from biting insects. For North Slope Inupiat residents, the waterfowl and caribou populations are important subsistent resources.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has been on the ground in this region since 2005, gathering data on the nesting biology of this international aggregation of breeding birds, which is also dominated by shorebirds that migrate there from around the world.

“We have found that the Teshekpuk Lake region is distinctive for its high diversity, abundance, and nesting productivity for these migrants,” said Dr. Steve Zack, conservation scientist for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

“We are pleased to see protection afforded this important place and look forward to seeking full protection of those areas near Teshekpuk that now have deferred leasing. It may well be that this area rich in wetlands may be an important refuge in the future as the climate continues to change the Arctic in dramatic ways.”

To view the BLM’s Supplemental Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement for the Northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, click here [].

View This Story On Eco–mmunity Map.