The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proposing a new rule to govern the management of surface resources and Special Areas in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR–A), consistent with its duties under the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (NPRPA), Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA), and other authorities. The proposed rule would revise the framework for designating and assuring maximum protection of Special Areas’ significant resource values, and would protect and enhance access for subsistence activities throughout the NPR–A. It would also incorporate aspects of the NPR–A Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) approved in April 2022. The proposed rule would have no effect on currently authorized oil and gas operations in the NPR–A. We solicit comments on all aspects of this proposed action.
Please submit comments on this proposed rule to the BLM on or before November 7, 2023. The BLM is not obligated to consider any comments received after this date in making its decision on the final rule.
Information Collection Requirements: This proposed rule includes existing and a proposed new information-collection requirement that must be approved by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). If you wish to comment on the information-collection requirements, please note that such comments should be sent directly to the OMB, and that the OMB is required to make a decision concerning the collection of information contained in this proposed rule between 30 and 60 days after publication of this document in the Federal Register . Therefore, a comment to the OMB on the proposed information-collection revisions is best assured of being given full consideration if the OMB receives it by November 7, 2023.
This proposed rule would revise the management framework for surface resources throughout the NPR–A and Special Areas in the NPR–A. The BLM has not updated this framework in the more than 45 years since the original and still current rule for management of NPR–A surface resources and Special Areas was promulgated in 1977. 42 FR 28721 (June 3, 1977). Currently, the legal standards and procedures that govern the NPR–A are scattered throughout several statutes, regulations, plans, and guidance documents. This proposed rule would provide a more comprehensive guide to managing the NPR–A. It would improve upon the existing regulations’ standards and procedures to balance oil and gas activities with the protection of surface resources in the NPR–A; designate and assure maximum protection of Special Areas’ significant resource values; and maintain and enhance access for long-standing subsistence activities. The proposed rule would also implement statutory provisions that post-date the current regulations, including the Department of the Interior Appropriations Act, Fiscal Year 1981, which directed the Secretary to “conduct an expeditious program of competitive leasing of oil and gas” in the NPR–A, while “provid[ing] for such conditions, restrictions, and prohibitions as the Secretary deems necessary or appropriate to mitigate reasonably foreseeable and significantly adverse effects on . . . surface resources . . . .” Public Law 96–514, 94 Stat. 2957 (1980). The proposed rule would not affect existing leases in the NPR–A.
And the proposal includes the following areas listed as in need of protection:
1. Special Area Designations
There are currently five Special Areas in the NPR–A that protect a wide range of significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, historical, and scenic values. Responding to the congressional mandate to protect the values of highly sensitive areas in the NPR–A, particularly Teshekpuk Lake and the Utukok River Uplands, which the NPRPA specifically identified for protection, the Secretary in 1977 delineated the boundaries of those two congressionally designated Special Areas and also designated a third: the Colville River Special Area. 42 FR 28723 (June 3, 1977). The Secretary specifically identified the significant resource values to be protected for each of the three Special Areas:
• Colville River: “The central Colville River and some of its tributaries provide critical nesting habitat for the Arctic peregrine falcon, an endangered species. The bluffs and cliffs along the Colville River provide nesting sites with the adjacent areas being utilized as food hunting areas. . . . A total area of approximately 2,300,000 acres within the reserve is identified for inclusion in the Colville River special area.” Id.
• Teshekpuk Lake: “The Teshekpuk Lake and its watershed are an important nesting, staging, and molting habitat for a large number of ducks, geese, and swans. Because of its importance to these migratory birds and numerous other waterbirds, a total of approximately 1,734,000 acres is identified as the Teshekpuk Lake special area.” Id.
• Utukok River Uplands: “The Utukok River Uplands special area contains critical habitat for caribou. The critical decline in the population level of the western Arctic caribou herd (from 70,000 in 1975 to 35,000 in 1976) necessitates maximum protection of this area, which is ordinarily the calving territory for this herd. . . . Because of the nomadic nature of the caribou, a large area encompassing approximately 4,032,000 acres is included within this area.” Id.
In 1999, the Secretary expanded the Colville River and Teshekpuk Lake Special Areas. The Secretary added “much of the Kikiakrorak and Kogosukruk Rivers and an area approximately two miles on either side of these rivers” to the Colville River Special Area, increasing its size to 2.44 million acres. (1) The Secretary also added the 10,000-acre Pik Dunes Land Use Emphasis Area to the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area. (2)
In 2004, the Secretary designated a fourth Special Area, Kasegaluk Lagoon, which encompasses 97,000 acres. 70 FR 9096 (Feb. 24, 2005). The Kasegaluk Lagoon Special Area is located in the northwestern corner of the NPR–A and includes important habitat for marine mammals, among other values. (3)
In 2013, the Secretary made several decisions concerning Special Areas. First, the Secretary designated a fifth Special Area: Peard Bay. The 107,000-acre area was designated to “protect haul-out areas and nearshore waters for marine mammals and a high use staging and migration area for shorebirds and waterbirds.”? (4) Second, the Secretary expanded the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area by 2 million acres “to encompass all the roughly 30-to-50-mile band of land valuable for bird and caribou habitat between Native-owned lands near Barrow and Native-owned lands near Nuiqsut . . . .”? (5) Third, the Secretary expanded the Utukok River Uplands Special Area to 7.1 million acres “to more fully encompass prime calving and insect-relief habitat within the NPR–A . . . .”? (6) Finally, the Secretary broadened the purpose of the Colville River Special Area to include the “protect[ion of] all raptors, rather than the original intent of protection for arctic peregrine falcons.”? (7)