US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has issued a directive aimed at spurring oil and natural gas development in Alaska, including a move to assess just how much crude might be lurking under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Zinke’s order, signed during a visit to Anchorage, also compels a rewrite of a 2013 plan that limited oil and natural gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). The move responds to complaints from oil companies and state officials that the Obama administration was too restrictive, blocking drilling in promising areas while hampering their ability to build pipelines across the 23-million-acre reserve.

"This is land that was set up with the sole intention of oil and gas production; however, years of politics over policy put roughly half of the NPR-A off-limits," Zinke said in a statement announcing the move. "Using this land for its original intent will create good-paying jobs and revenue."

Congress established the ANWR in 1980 to protect the 19-million-acre territory along Alaska’s northeast frontier. But ANWR’s estimated 12 billion barrels of crude has drawn interest from energy companies and their political allies.

President Trump already has proposed raising $1.8 billion over the next decade by opening up parts of that refuge for oil and gas development, which would require a change in the law by Congress. For decades, environmentalists have successfully blocked ANWR drilling plans from advancing on Capitol Hill.

Zinke’s order compels Interior Department officials to deliver a blueprint for reworking a plan governing activity in the reserve that strikes an "appropriate" balance of promoting development while protecting other resources.

 image: Conoco Philips