Salazar, Alaska producers view final NPR-A plan differently

US Sec. of the Interior Ken Salazar signed a final plan for managing the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that he and several environmental organizations called balanced, and the Alaska Oil & Gas Association called needlessly restrictive.

“The balanced approach under this plan is the result of extensive local input and will help guide the responsible production and transport of the substantial oil and gas resources in and around [NPR-A],” Salazar said Feb. 21 as he released the plan’s final details.

“This comprehensive plan will allow us to continue to expand our leasing in the NPR-A, as has happened over the last 3 years, while protecting the outstanding and unique resources that are critically important to the culture and subsistence lifestyle of Alaska natives and our nation’s conservation heritage,” he maintained.

“We respectively disagree with the secretary,” AOGA Executive Director Kara Moriarty told OGJ by telephone from Anchorage after Salazar announced his decision. “We do not feel it is a balanced approach. We see it as one which locks up areas in a petroleum reserve.”

Salazar said the final action allows for the development of 72% of the estimated economically recoverable oil in the nearly 23 million-acre reserve, while protecting the vital subsistence resources of Alaska Natives and the habitat of world-class wildlife populations.

Addresses two issues

Salazar said the final plan, outlined in a record of decision (ROD), addresses two key issues he identified when he released the final environmental impact statement for what Interior called an integrated activity plan for NPR-A.

First, said Salazar, it confirmed explicitly that pipelines carrying oil and gas from the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas could be built across NPR-A. Second, following additional consultations with North Slope communities, the ROD requires that the US Bureau of Land Management establish an “NPR-A Working Group” that will include representatives of North Slope tribal entities, native corporations, and local governments.

BLM said the working group will provide input on the full range of management issues and possible future development in the NPR-A, including pipelines and related oil and gas system development.

It also will be a forum to gather additional scientific information and traditional knowledge about wildlife populations and needs, and it can inform potential adjustments to the boundaries of special areas including, for example, potential future adjustments to the southernmost boundary of the Teshekpuk Lake special area, BLM said.

It said it has estimated that acreage made available for development under this plan contains nearly three fourths of NPR-A’s estimated economically recoverable oil and more than half the estimated economically recoverable gas. The plan will allow for access to oil and gas resources on 11.8 million acres, which are estimated to hold 549 million bbl of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 tcf of economically recoverable gas, BLM indicated.

‘Areas locked up’

Moriarty said AOGA and its member companies believe this plan locks up resources specifically set aside as a petroleum reserve. “A lot of Alaskans—from the governor and our congressional delegation to natives who live in the area—supported a different approach,” she told OGJ. “We hoped there would be access to highly prospective areas in the reserve. The area around Teshekpuk Lake already was off-limits, but now other promising areas have been locked up.”

She also questioned the necessity of setting up the working group when producers have operated safely and worked well with native communities on the ANS for more than 35 years. “It’s also not clear how the approved plan would accommodate a pipeline corridor,” she said. “But the final plan’s most disturbing aspect is that many promising areas in the reserve are off-limits now. We see it as a lose-lose proposition for those of us who live here and call Alaska home.”

Salazar’s final NPR-A decision also drew fire from Republican Congressional energy leaders. US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alas.), the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member, said she continues to believe that a land management plan focused on conservation is inappropriate for a petroleum reserve.

“Even the administration concedes the need to build a pipeline to ensure that the vast oil and gas resources in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas can reach the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System,” she said, adding, “But the language included in this plan fails to provide the certainty necessary to make sure such a pipeline can actually be built without being held up by endless environmental litigation.”

‘Backwards worldview’

US House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (Wash.) said Salazar’s decision put more oil and gas resources on federally controlled land off-limits as US gasoline prices climbed for a 34th consecutive day.

“Only in [US President Barack] Obama’s backwards worldview of antienergy policies does it make sense to prohibit energy production in a place specifically set aside for energy production at a time when gasoline prices are skyrocketing and federal oil and natural gas production is declining,” he said.

Environmental organizations, meanwhile, applauded Salazar’s action. “This strategy protects incredibly valuable wildlife habitat for caribou, bears, and migratory waterfowl in the Western Arctic, yet still allows industry access to the majority of economically recoverable oil in the reserve,” said Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society. “It’s a plan that meets the needs of all Americans, and can serve as a model for the rest of the country.”

Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, meanwhile, said, “[DOI] has crafted a plan that protects and recognizes the vital role of subsistence, scenic and recreational values, and unique wildlife values. [NPR-A] is home to our most iconic wildlife, like caribou, muskoxen, grizzly bears and beluga whales. Thank you for protecting this special place for future generations.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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