ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has announced it will be accepting oil exploration bids for more than half of the land on a Northern Alaska petroleum reserve that’s the size of Indiana.
The bureau’s announcement on Wednesday is the largest lease sale to be offered in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported.
A total of 900 tracts are up for bid, compared with the 145 tracts offered last year.
The land up for lease was guided by industry interest in the past. But earlier this year, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke directed the bureau to maximize the amount of reserve land available for lease.
The reserve saw a spike in interest from the oil industry last year, which was spurred by a series of oil discoveries around the northeast part of the reserve.
Alaska’s congressional delegation praised the announcement, while environmental groups said the reserve should not be “plundered without restraint.”
“The (reserve) was always intended for development, not to be locked away in perpetuity like the previous administration attempted,” Republican U.S. Rep. Don Young said.
President Barack Obama’s administration decided to mark portions of the reserve off-limits to leasing, citing the protection of bird and caribou habitat. Donald Trump’s administration is reviewing those marked areas.
“We need a thoughtful, careful approach that emphasizes responsible development and recognizes that some places are simply too special to drill,” said Nicole Whittington-Evans of the Wilderness Society.
The lease sale is scheduled for Dec. 6.