Teshekpuk Lake (left side of satellite image) is among the pristine areas in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska that environmental groups want to permanently protect. The Bureau of Land Management will consider such protections as part of a comprehensive management plan for the NPR-A expected to be completed in the coming months. Photo courtesy of NASA.
The Interior Department is preparing to develop its first comprehensive management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A), a move environmentalists say could permanently remove large sections of the massive reserve from future energy development.
The "integrated activity plan" for NPR-A would take a comprehensive look at the 23.5-million-acre reserve with an eye toward identifying areas suitable for oil and natural gas drilling as well as those areas that should remain off-limits, said Pat Pourchot, special assistant to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar for Alaska affairs.
The planning process could include evaluating sections of the NPR-A for potential wilderness designation, Pourchot said, rendering even more of Alaska's oil-rich North Slope into a permanent wildlife sanctuary.
But the process could meet resistance from some policymakers and the petroleum industry, which is facing new levels of public scrutiny after a series of controversial oil and gas lease sales and the disastrous BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
In May, Salazar finalized a series of onshore leasing reforms that place a much greater emphasis on environmental analysis and reviews. Industry officials have complained that the reforms, combined with pending legislation in Congress to reform offshore drilling, will slow energy development and place more workers on unemployment lines.