Aerial View of Teshekpuk Lake Wetlands
Subhankar Banerjee

Aerial View of Teshekpuk Lake Wetlands

  • 1923 - President Harding designates what is now the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPR-A) based on the existence of oil seeps at Cape Simpson, long known by the Inupiat and reported by the explorer Brooks in 1909.   
  • 1976 - Congress enacts the Naval Petroleum Reserve Production Act (NPRPA), recognizing the area’s exceptional ecological values and transferring management from the US Navy to the Department of the Interior. NPRPA expressly states that "maximum protection" be given to the Teshekpuk Lake and the Utukok River areas and authorizes the Secretary of  Interior to identify and protect other areas with significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, or historical or scenic value. 
  • 1977 - Under the Carter Administration, the Secretary of the Interior formally designates the first three “Special Areas”―Teshekpuk Lake, the Utukok River Uplands, and the Colville River. 
  • 1982 - The first of a series of oil and gas lease sales is initiated. A total of 11 individual sales have been held (through 2011) with a total of more than 6.9 million acres leased over time. 
  • 1983 - Under the Reagan Administration, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiates an oil and gas leasing program in NPR-A, but puts off limit an area of about 200,000 acres north of Teshekpuk Lake specifically because of its value to molting geese and in recognition that the area is of international ecological significance. 
  • 1998 - The Clinton Administration prepares the first Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) for the Northeast portion of the NPR-A. The BLM establishes a deferral area including Teshekpuk Lake and roughly 598,000 acres of adjacent goose molting area. 
  • 2004 - BLM prepares the first IAP for the Northwestern portion of the NPRA; Kasegaluk Lagoon Special Area designated. 
  • January 2006 - BLM issues a new decision to open the entire Northeast NPR-A to leasing, including all of the Teshekpuk Lake area. The only exception made was for the lake bed itself. 
  • March 2006 - National Audubon Society and five other environmental organizations go to court, challenging BLM's January 2006 decision and a proposed September 2006 lease sale. The District Court rules in Audubon's favor (Audubon v. Kempthorne) and blocks the oil and gas lease sale in the Northeast Planning Area. 
  • 2008 - BLM completes a new, revised plan for the Northeast NPR-A: Teshekpuk Lake is designated “unavailable” and leasing in the goose molting area is deferred for at least 10 years (total 649,000 acres). 
  • 2010 - The US Geological Survey updates hydrocarbon resource assessment for NPR-A, finding a large reduction in expected oil resource (from more than 10 billion barrels of oil to less than 1 billion barrels). The BLM announces initiation of first-ever comprehensive IAP for the entire NPR-A (including all three NE, NW and South areas)
  • 2011 - BLM holds annual lease sale, for the first time withholding tracts throughout the entire existing Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (1.75 million acres) 
  • 2012 - BLM prepares a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the comprehensive IAP for the entire NPR-A and identifies a “preferred alternative” (B-2), which identifies 11 million acres as unavailable for lease. Highlights of “preferred alternative,” if adopted in the final Record of Decision in mid-December: 
    • More than doubles Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (to 3.65 million acres) and makes unavailable for leasing 96% of the globally-significant Teshekpuk Lake Important Bird Area (2.14 million acres); nearly doubles the Utukok River Uplands Special Area to (7.1 million acres) with the vast majority unavailable for leasing, including key caribou habitats (6.4 million acres); protects important habitat for grizzly bear, wolverine, and wolves
    • Creates new Peard Bay Special Area (107,000 acres)
    • Makes major coastal water bodies unavailable for leasing including Peard Bay, Kasegaluk Lagoon, Kuk Inlet, and Elson Lagoon/Dease Inlet, providing protection for various marine mammals (polar bear, walrus, ice seals) along with important migratory bird nesting, staging, and foraging areas
    • Protects core caribou areas for the ~60,000 Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd and the ~325,000 Western Arctic Caribou Herd
    • Makes nearly all designated critical habitat for polar bear denning (81%) and no disturbance zones (93%) in the NPR-A off limits to oil and gas leasing (920,000 million acres)