Interior official says Trump administration has the ‘guts’ to allow oil exploration in ANWR

Flanked by Senator Lisa Murkowski and Governor Bill Walker, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks to reporters after signing an order to promote more drilling on Alaska’s North Slope. (Photo by Elizabeth Harball/Alaska’s Energy Desk)

During a speech in Anchorage today, a top Interior Department official said kick-starting oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, is a priority for the Trump administration.

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“The untapped potential of ANWR is significant. But it is the Trump administration that had the guts to step up to the plate and facilitate production,” Vincent DeVito, the Interior Department’s Counselor for Energy Policy, told a conference for ocean researchers in Anchorage today.

DeVito occupies a new post created by the Trump Administration, advising Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on developing oil and other resources from federal land and waters.

Last week, the Washington Post reported the Trump administration is pushing to allow seismic testing in the Arctic Refuge. Seismic testing would provide new information on where and how much oil is in the Refuge.

After his speech, DeVito told reporters he thinks the Interior Secretary is on firm legal footing as he pursues a new assessment of the Refuge’s oil potential.

“I’m confident that everything that the Secretary decides can withstand a legal challenge,” DeVito said.

If the Trump administration is challenged in court, it wouldn’t be the first legal battle over the issue. The state of Alaska unsuccessfully sued the Obama administration to allow seismic testing in the Refuge in 2014.

In his speech, DeVito also talked about increasing oil development in a different swath of federal land in the Arctic — the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, or NPR-A.

“It is time to use NPR-A how it was originally intended to be used,” DeVito said. “This is land that is supposed to be used for oil production. But many politicians — not Secretary Zinke — and exuberant interest groups basically took it offline.”

Today, just under half of NPR-A is off-limits to oil leasing, but the Trump administration is now reviewing that policy. Environmental groups argue that parts of the Reserve should remain off-limits because they contain critical wildlife habitat.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said “over half” of NPR-A is currently off limits to oil leasing. It is, in fact, just under half.