Earthjustice Applauds New Rules Limiting Future Oil Drilling in Western Arctic

Biden administration unveils new regulations that will help preserve 13 million acres in Alaska


Jackson Chiappinelli, Earthjustice, (585) 402-2005,

The Biden administration today unveiled new regulations strengthening land conservation for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (Reserve). The new rule establishes stronger protections against oil-and-gas development for designated Special Areas in the ecologically significant public lands area, located in the Western Arctic. Earthjustice applauded the new rule and issued the following statement:

“We applaud the Biden administration for this important step to increase protections for 13 million acres of the Western Arctic to safeguard the irreplaceable ecosystems and wildlife found there. We look forward to partnering with the administration to adopt new measures applicable throughout the Western Arctic to further protect it and our climate from expanded drilling,” said Abigail Dillen, President of Earthjustice.

“It’s no secret that the Reserve — a vast region of tundra and wetlands teeming with wildlife and globally recognized for its ecological value – has frequently landed in the crosshairs of the insatiable fossil fuel industry,” said Earthjustice attorney Jeremy Lieb. “Today the administration has taken an important step to defend a cherished landscape from further fossil fuel development that would threaten these irreplaceable lands and waters and our climate. We applaud this move and call for even bolder action to keep the fossil fuel industry out of the Arctic, for the sake of the climate and future generations.”


With today’s announcement, the Biden administration unveiled a final version of new protective measures for the Reserve and its adjacent waters, safeguarding habitat for migratory birds, polar bears, caribou, and other iconic Arctic species. The new regulations were proposed in September 2023. They ensure maximum protection for more than 13 million acres of Special Areas in the Reserve, while supporting subsistence activities for Alaska Native communities. (Special Areas are ecologically sensitive landscapes within the Reserve, designated for protection pursuant to a 1976 law known as the Naval Petroleum Reserves Protection Act (NPRPA)).

The new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) regulations establish an outright prohibition on any new oil-and-gas leasing for 10.6 million acres of the Reserve and encourage the Bureau of Land Management to explore co-stewardship opportunities with surrounding Alaska Native Tribal communities for management of the Special Areas. The regulations also expand and create new protections for Special Areas, establish a new presumption against new fossil fuel activity in Special Areas that are still available for leasing, and clarify BLM’s authority to protect the environment across the entire Reserve. They also require BLM to evaluate Special Areas at least every ten years to determine whether new special areas should be created, existing ones expanded, or new resource protections applied.

Looking ahead, more is needed to ensure that the oil industry does not cause further damage to the Reserve, a region that has abundant oil reserves and is already warming four times as fast as the rest of the planet due to climate change.  If the U.S. is to meet its 2030 pledge under the Paris Agreement on climate change, economy-wide emissions must drop nearly 6.9% annually, according to research by the Rhodium Group. Limiting new fossil fuel development is an effective way to tackle the climate crisis and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Earthjustice is currently awaiting a ruling from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning its lawsuit on behalf of clients challenging ConocoPhillips’ Willow Project, an oil-drilling operation slated for a parcel within the Reserve. Over its lifetime, Willow stands to accelerate the climate crisis by emitting about 260 million metric tons of greenhouse gasses over the next 30 years.

Caribou in the Western Arctic
Caribou in the Western Arctic. (Kiliii Yüyan for Earthjustice)

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