UPDATE 2-U.S. unveils plan to manage huge Alaskan oil reserve

Wed Dec 19, 2012 10:31pm EST
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* Vast area divided between energy development, conservation

* Reserve home to huge caribou herds, migratory birds

* Republican senator says plan locks up gas reserves

By Ros Krasny

WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - The U.S. federal government on Wednesday announced a plan to manage energy drilling on part of Alaska's North Slope, with the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve to be divided between areas available for oil and gas leases and those that are protected from development.

The announcement by U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar followed the completion of an environmental impact study, which recommended development of areas that contain about 72 percent of the estimated "economically recoverable" oil in the reserve.

The move drew criticism from Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who said the Obama administration had not gone far enough to open up oil and natural gas resources in the area.

Salazar said the plan as conceived would allow for the potential construction of pipelines carrying oil or gas from operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas through the NPR region, also known as the Western Arctic Reserve.

The "balanced approach" would help protect "significant caribou herds, migratory bird habitat and sensitive coastal resources that are critically important to the culture and subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Natives," Salazar said.   Continued...