Bush Administration Plan to Give Western Arctic to Oil Industry Will Industrialize Largest Remaining Wilderness Area in Nation

NRDC Says America Cannot Drill Its Way to Oil Independence; Calls for Increasing Auto Fuel Efficiency Instead of Destroying Wilderness

WASHINGTON (January 22, 2004) -- The Bureau of Land Management's plan announced today to open the 9-million acre Northwest Planning Area of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) to oil development will produce only a modest amount of oil and ruin an area with unique cultural and wilderness values, according to NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council).

"It makes no sense to industrialize this incomparable wilderness area when there's only about six month's worth of economically recoverable oil in the entire NPR-A, and it would take at least 10 years to get it to market," said Charles Clusen, Alaska Project director at NRDC. "The United States has only 3 percent of the world's proven oil reserves and we use 25 percent of the world's produced oil. We can't drill our way to oil independence. We have to wean ourselves off oil."

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that at $25 a barrel, there is likely only 3.7 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil in the entire 23.5-million-acre NPR-A (see USGS data). Americans currently use 7.2 billion barrels a year. U.S. crude oil prices have averaged $24 a barrel over the last five years (see the U.S. Energy Information Agency table).

Increasing the fuel efficiency of cars and trucks to 40 miles per gallon by 2012 and to 55 mph by 2020 would, by 2030, save 10 times the amount of oil that could be pumped from the entire National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (see "Dangerous Addiction: Ending America's Oil Dependence").

The NPR-A's Northwest Planning Area contains some of the most superlative natural resources in the entire circumpolar Arctic region, including:

  • Wetlands with high-density waterbird nesting and molting habitat for threatened Steller's, spectacled eiders, rare yellow-billed loons, and much of the world's population of the prized pacific black brant;

  • Habitat for the 430,000-strong Western Arctic caribou herd, Alaska's largest;

  • Polar bear denning habitat and grizzly bear feeding areas;

  • Marine mammal habitat for beluga and bowhead whales and spotted seals;

  • Invaluable habitat for anadromous fish and nesting peregrine falcons in the interior coastal plain; and

  • Subsistence resources for the Inupiat and other Alaskan natives.

The BLM plan is deficient because:

  • Its evaluation of the potential impact of oil development in its environmental impact statement (EIS) is based upon proposed development scenarios that are incomplete and unrealistic given the existing development in the region. As a result, the agency understates the potential threat of new development.

  • It does not adequately assess the potential long-term threat of oil and gas development on wildlife and the environment in light of the findings of the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council. NRC's March 2003 report, "Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope," documents the environmental and cultural harm resulting from three decades of oil development on Alaska's North Slope.

  • The plan fails to take into account the National Audubon Society's December 2002 report, "Alaska's Western Arctic: A Summary and Synthesis of Resources, " and its February 2003 report, "Wildlife Habitat Alternative, " which provide significant new information and analyses not included in the agency's EIS.

  • It fails to consider wilderness potential for the Northwest Planning Area.

  • The plan fails to include adequate mitigation measures.

"The BLM has to go back to the drawing board," said Clusen. "It has to come up with a new plan that protects the ecological, wildlife, subsistence, cultural and wilderness resources of the Northwest Planning Area. This plan should be dead on arrival."