April 20 (UPI) -- An initial step toward opening up an Arctic wilderness area in Alaska to oil and gas development unveils a revenue stream for the state, the governor said.
A document published Friday in the Federal Register by the U.S. Interior Department outlined plans for a leasing environmental impact statement for an oil and gas leasing plan. The area under consideration includes 1.6 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, designated as the so-called 1002 Area.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker said opening ANWR up to drillers presented a historic opportunity for the state.
"This is an important priority for my administration given the potential for significant new revenues from lease sales and production," he said in a statement late Thursday.
The U.S. tax reform passed late last year included language inserted by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that opened the 1002 Area. Murkowski's office said the ANWR section is a non-wilderness portion of the refuge and her provision carved out only a "small portion" of the acreage for oil and gas drilling. The area in question represents about 8 percent of total ANWR acreage.
President Donald Trump said the parts of ANWR opened to drillers may rank in the top globally in terms of field potential. A study from the U.S. Geological Survey found as much of 10.4 billion barrels of oil could be considered commercial with oil priced at $30 per barrel. Brent crude oil, the global benchmark for the price of oil, was near $70 per barrel early Friday.
Alaska is struggling with budgetary issues amid declining oil and gas production. The four-week average for daily crude oil production from Alaska of around 500,000 barrels per day is down about 5 percent from this time last year. The four-week average of 9.9 million barrels per day from the Lower 48, meanwhile, is up 15 percent.
The Anchorage Economic Development Corp. said the oil and gas sector in the state lost 4,000 jobs in the last four years.
The Center for American Progress, a liberal-leaning group, said the push into the Arctic wilderness is reckless and perhaps non-commercial. Its analysis found oil and gas leases would generate about $37.5 million in federal revenue, "far short of the $1 billion to $1.8 billion that drilling proponents claim could be raised."
"Our generation must not allow the Trump administration to transform the wildest place left in America into an industrial complex of oil rigs, roads, pipelines and landing strips," added Adam Kolton, the executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.