Last 13 Percent of a Critical Public Land Area Will Remain Closed to Drilling

Statement by Chuck Clusen, NRDC Alaska Project Director

WASHINGTON (September 26, 2006) -- A federal court in Alaska today ordered the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to keep some 590,000 acres of environmentally sensitive land in northwest Alaska off-limits to oil and gas drilling.

The court order revokes a BLM plan that would have opened up an area around Teshekpuk Lake, which includes some of the most important wetlands in the Arctic. The 45,000-head Teshekpuk Lake Caribou Herd bears its calves and seeks relief from insects near the lake, and it is a key summer molting and nesting site for many of North America's migratory ducks, geese, swans, loons and other birds. Additionally, Alaska Natives rely on the area for subsistence fishing and hunting, especially caribou hunts.

The Teshekpuk Lake area is in the Northeast Planning Area of the Western Arctic (dubbed the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska by U.S. government in 1923), which is west of the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. For the BLM plan, go to www.ak.blm.gov/nenpraeis/rod/nerod_122205final.pdf. For the BLM map of the area, go to www.ak.blm.gov/nenpraeis/rod/nenprarodmaps.html.

Below is a statement by Charles Clusen, director of NRDC's Alaska Project.

"The court today sided with the scientists, sportsmen and conservation groups who agree we should protect the last 13 percent of the most sensitive habitat in the Western Arctic's Northeast area. Eighty-seven percent of it is already open to drilling. The court order stops the Bureau of Land Management from handing all of it over to the oil companies. BLM is supposed to balance all values of our public lands. Giving 100 percent to the oil industry is not what anyone would call 'balanced.'

"We can drill every last acre of wilderness and it won't make us any more secure. We need to wean ourselves off of oil."