US Sec. of the Interior Ken Salazar announced a new National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) plan that he said would balance meeting US energy needs with preserving wildlife and Alaska Native subsistence culture. The proposal also would not preclude construction of a pipeline from offshore oil fields across NPR-A if necessary requirements are met, he said during a press conference in Anchorage.
“This proposal would allow us to continue to expand our leasing in the NPR-A, as we have done over the last 3 years…and builds on our efforts to help companies develop the infrastructure that’s needed to bring supplies online,” Salazar said.
“[It] also strikes an important balance by recognizing the need to protect America’s treasures in the Arctic, from the raptors of the Colville River and the polar bears of the Beaufort Sea coast, to Teshekpuk Lake, Peard Bay, and some of the largest caribou herds on Earth,” he said.
The new proposal, “Alternative B-2,” is a modified version of one of four alternatives released Mar. 30 in a draft integrated activity plan and environmental impact statement for NPR-A. It will be analyzed in detail and presented as the preferred alternative for the final the reserve’s final IAP and EIS, which is due to be completed before yearend.
Will provide roadmap
The new plan was developed after more than 400,000 comments were received, according to Mike Pool, the US Bureau of Land Management’s acting director, who also participated in the press conference. “As the first integrated activity plan for the entire NPR-A, this will provide a roadmap to help facilitate the transition from leasing and cautious exploration to production and smart development,” he said.
He said the 11.8 million acres that would be available for leasing under the preferred alternative—which makes the vast majority of projected oil resources in the NPR-A available for leasing—are estimated to hold 549 million bbl of discovered and undiscovered economically recoverable oil and 8.7 tcf of discovered and undiscovered economically recoverable natural gas.
Salazar also noted that the new proposal allows for construction of a pipeline and related infrastructure across the reserve to accommodate possible future offshore oil and gas production in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas after much study and once environmental requirements are met. “There is an openness to have a pipeline traverse the NPR-A,” he said. “This plan does not preclude that possibility.”
He said calls to close the area to oil and gas activity permanently conflict with US President Barack Obama’s strategy of improving US energy security with careful, responsible policies. But Salazar also said that environmental and other impacts also should be fully studied and considered.
Big issues remain
“As we have moved forward with our 5-year [US Outer Continental Shelf] plan and plans offshore Alaska, it’s my view we should not be afraid of additional information,” he told reporters. “There are infrastructure and other large issues which need to be addressed before major drilling takes place in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas…. We should not take steps that subsequently require restoration efforts that cost millions of dollars. In short, we don’t want to mess it up.”
An American Petroleum Institute official initially criticized the plan. “While every lease sale is important, this announcement continues to leave domestic energy resources, jobs and government revenue off the table,” said Erik Milito, API’s upstream and industry operations group director.
Environmental organizations reacted more favorably. Cindy Shogun, executive director of the Alaskan Wilderness League, said the plan strikes a balance between responsible resource development and conservation of special areas within NPR-A. “In addition, today’s announcement recognizes strong subsistence values that are critical for the Native communities on the North Slope,” she indicated.
Jamie Williams, president of the Wilderness Society, noted that while the preferred management strategy allows for construction of a pipeline to transport offshore Alaskan crude to market, “we are pleased that such a project could not pass through critical caribou habitat in the Teshekpuk Lake area.”
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