In a significant step for climate change reforms, the Biden administration has announced that it will cancel oil and gas leases in Alaska – and ban oil drilling in 13 million acres of land in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. This decision has sparked praise from environmentalists and concern for the state’s economic interests.
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Canceling oil and gas leases essentially means that some existing, legally binding agreements between the federal government and oil companies in Alaska will end. These companies will no longer have the right to explore, drill, or extract oil and gas from the leased areas. This is not permanent; the Biden administration is legally required to have another lease sale by the end of 2024.
Oil drilling negatively impacts the surrounding environment of the sites in several different ways. It disrupts the natural environment surrounding the site, impacting wildlife, which can further impact those who live there as they may rely on those animals. Even with existing safety measures, oil spills do occur. A major oil spill can devastate local ecosystems and aquatic life in the areas surrounding the spill. Lastly, and most importantly, oil drilling is a major producer of carbon emissions and pollution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) best explains the true damage of oil drilling on the climate: “The industry is a significant source of emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide.”
Previously, climate activists were disappointed in President Biden because of his approval of the Willow Oil drilling project back in March, which is also in Alaska. Originally, it was a Trump-era project to allow oil drilling on the Northern slope of Alaska. Dubbed a “carbon bomb,” activists felt that Biden had gone back on his pro-climate protection stance by approving it. It is significant to note that these reforms will not impact Project Willow.
President Biden, in a statement addressing the new regulations, said, “Canceling all remaining oil and gas leases issued under the previous administration in the Arctic Refuge and protecting more than 13 million acres in the western Arctic will help preserve our Arctic lands and wildlife, while honoring the culture, history, and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on these lands since time immemorial.”
The reforms came with resistance from many different groups. Republican groups, who are known for challenging similar efforts, are accusing the Biden administration of jeopardizing America’s fuel independence. While these concerns are significant in a time of rising oil prices, according to the New York Times, “...the United States oil production is poised to break records this year.” Other groups may also oppose the reforms, as oil drilling can create jobs and revenue for those living in the state.
Despite this, the regulations are still a welcome step toward protecting the Alaskan environment and reducing carbon emissions. It reflects a commitment from the American government to protect the environment and reduce America’s contribution to carbon emissions. Hopefully, reforms like this one continue to be passed and further push for a greater reliance on sustainable energy.
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Further reading: Informing yourself is the most essential step in becoming an activist and fighting for what you believe is right. Along with these articles, feel free to check out the articles in the citation section of this article.
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US EPA. “Basic Information about Oil and Natural Gas Air Pollution Standards | US EPA,” September 29, 2022. https://www.epa.gov/controlling-air-pollution-oil-and-natural-gas-industry/basic-information-about-oil-and-natural-gas.
Bohrer, Becky, and Matthew Daly. “Biden Administration Cancels Remaining Oil and Gas Leases in Alaska’s Arctic Refuge | AP News.” AP News, September 7, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/alaska-arctic-refuge-oil-gas-leases-interior-318dcc3f2d5b104a800bf3ba48e764b7.
Friedman, Lisa. “Biden Administration to Bar Drilling on Millions of Acres in Alaska.” The New York Times, September 6, 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/06/climate/biden-drilling-alaska-wildlife-refuge.html.
Nilsen, Ella. “Biden Administration Cancels Years-Long Attempt to Drill in Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.” CNN, September 6, 2023. https://www.cnn.com/2023/09/06/politics/drilling-alaska-national-wildlife-refuge/index.html.
The Associated Press. “As Biden Weighs the Willow Oil Project, He Blocks Other Alaska Drilling.” NPR, March 13, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2023/03/12/1163003146/alaska-drilling-protections-biden.