The Biden Administration’s energy policies are in the spotlight again following the U.S. Department of the Interior’s new limits to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) updated its regulatory framework for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). The reserve consists of 23 million acres of public land in Alaska extending from the Brooks Range to the Arctic Coast. BLM cited wildlife protection efforts, climate change and indigenous communities’ continued reliance on its resources as reasons for the new restrictions.

The NPR-A is estimated to hold approximately 17 Bbbl of conventional oil and 50 Tcf of natural gas, according to the Energy Workforce and Technology Council.

The updated regulations protect 13.3 million acres designated as special areas in the western Arctic. Future oil and gas drilling and industrial development will be limited in Teshekpuk Lake, Utukok Uplands, Colville River, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay Special Areas. BLM also codified existing prohibitions on new leasing on 10.6 million acres, more than 40% of the NPR-A.

The bureau also said it would be requesting public comments in the following weeks on whether resource values should be added to special areas; if special areas should be expanded; or if new special areas should be created.

The BLM also gave its final environmental analysis on the Ambler Road project, a 211-mile roadway for industrial use to the Ambler Mining District proposed by the Alaska Industrial and Development Export Authority (AIDEA).

The BLM identified “no action” for the project, citing impacts to caribou and other wildlife populations as well as irreparable impacts to permafrost, making the road unable to be reclaimed. If finalized in a record of decision, the AIDEA would not receive right-of-way for the road. BLM plans to issue its decision 30 days after publication of the environmental review in the Federal Register.

“I am proud that my administration is taking action to conserve more than 13 million acres in the Western Arctic and to honor the culture, history and enduring wisdom of Alaska Natives who have lived on and stewarded these lands since time immemorial,” President Joe Biden said in an April 19 statement on protecting Alaska’s Arctic lands.

In March 2023, the Biden administration approved ConocoPhillips Co.’s $8 billion Alaska Willow drilling project in the NPR-A, spurring several lawsuits from environmental groups.

This time, environmentalists praised the Biden administration’s actions.

Mattea Mrkusic, Evergreen Action senior policy lead for energy transition, said that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the planet in an Arctic Defense Campaign news release on April 19.

“But that hasn’t deterred Big Oil from threatening delicate ecosystems and accelerating the climate crisis further by drilling for oil and gas in Alaska’s Western Arctic. Now is the time to safeguard this precious and biodiverse ecosystem for future generations,” Mrkusic said. “We appreciate the Biden administration’s necessary step to strengthen protections for 13 million acres of Special Areas—which are integral to local communities for food and their ways of life—and we look forward to working with them to end oil and gas drilling on public lands once and for all.”

The environmental decisions were also met with criticism from state officials and energy players. In anticipation of the decision, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan was critical of Biden’s latest sanctions on American energy during an April 18 press conference.

“The Ambler Mining District is considered one of the most extensive sources of undeveloped zinc, copper, lead, gold, silver anywhere on the planet,” Sullivan said. “America desperately needs such minerals for our renewable energy sector, our economy, to compete against China and for our own national security.”

Tim Tarpley, president of national trade association Energy Workforce and Technology Council, also condemned the administration’s move to block oil and gas drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve, saying the decision comes at a time of increased geopolitical instability and will diminish energy security.

“Halting drilling the National Petroleum Reserve will hamper American energy production, shutting down one of the United States’ most important energy resources and canceling hundreds of long-term jobs for energy workers,” Tarpley said. “The last thing that we should be doing now is removing Americans' access to domestic energy resources.”