The National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA)

Publication Date: September 2002

Publisher: Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service


Research Area: Energy; Environment



In May 2002, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) released revised estimates of the oil and gas resources that may lie beneath the surface of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA), an area of more than 20-million acres that lies West of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Significantly higher than previous estimates, these numbers may be considered by House and Senate conferees as they seek to reach agreement on a mutually acceptable energy bill (H.R. 4). The House-passed version of omnibus energy legislation, H.R. 4, would allow oil and gas leasing in ANWR (limiting the footprint of development to 2,000 acres of the coastal plain). The Senate version contains no ANWR provision.

The NPRA did not figure in the floor debates on H.R. 4. However, some may now argue that the promise of NPRA makes development of ANWR less urgent and that, in any event, greater emphasis should be placed on conservation policies and utilization of alternative and renewable energy sources. However, there is no inherent irreconcilability between ANWR and NPRA, and nothing to preclude making it a matter of policy to develop both areas.

The Naval Petroleum and Oil Shale Reserves were established in the early 1900s to assure availability of fuels for the Navy, which was converting its ships from coal to oil prior to World War I. In 1923, by Executive Order, President Warren G. Harding established one of these reserves in northern Alaska. Over time, the original rationale for the Naval Petroleum Reserves faded. In 1981, stewardship of the Alaskan Reserve passed from the Navy to the Department of the Interior (DOI), and the area was designated the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA). The Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act (P.L. 96-514) authorized the Secretary of the Interior to conduct oil and gas leasing and development in the NPRA. The USGS had estimated that the NPRA could hold technically recoverable resources of 820 million to 5.4 billion barrels of oil. Lease sales were held during 1983-85, but none of these leases was developed and all have expired.

However, the new estimates for NPRA present a more optimistic picture, estimating 1.3 billion barrels economically recoverable at a price of $22/barrel (bbl), and 5.6 billion barrels economically recoverable with a market price of $30/bbl (2001 constant dollars). Technically recoverable oil is estimated at 5.9-13.2 billion barrels; the mean estimate is 9.3 billion barrels. Discovery of hydrocarbon deposits in 1996 just east of the NPRA has also contributed to expectations about the resources that might lie under the surface of the NPRA.

NPRA lease sales were held again in May 1999 and June 2002. The FY2002 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act (P.L. 107-63) provided $2 million in funding for preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in anticipation of holding a lease sale in 2004 for tracts in the northwestern NPRA.