FWS rejects Alaska offer to update ANWR coastal plain’s potential

The US Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the Alaska state government’s offer to evaluate crude oil resources beneath the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain. Statutory and regulatory authority under which the state submitted its application expired in 1987, said Geoffrey Haskett, FWS’s regional director in Anchorage.

Authorization for any exploration of ANWR under Section 1002 of the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act (ANILCA) expired in 1987 when then-US Sec. of the Interior Donald P. Hodel submitted a report evaluating the coastal plain’s petroleum potential which the section required to Congress, Haskett said in a July 23 letter to Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Daniel S. Sullivan.

A Jan. 18, 2001, legal memorandum to then-US Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), which Haskett included in the letter, confirms this, he indicated.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) expressed disappointment, saying the US Department of the Interior agency “chose to rely on an inaccurate interpretation of ANILCA.” Section 1002 contains no exploration date, and mandates getting accurate and complete scientific information about ANWR’s resource potential a priority, he said on July 26.

The state announced on July 9 that it would apply to run 3D seismic tests on ANWR’s coastal plain to better understand the quality and quantity of hydrocarbons beneath it (OGJ Online, July 10, 2013).

Its detailed plan included all of the information required by statute as well as the existing USFWS regulations for exploration in the 1002 Area, Parnell said. 3D seismic data would be vastly superior to the 2D seismic data that was gathered in the 1980s and is the only raw data on the coastal plain’s hydrocarbon resources that is currently available, he observed.

The state’s plan also calls for the use of modern technology that is able to gather seismic data with extremely limited impact on the surface, Parnell added. “It is unfortunate that the USFWS failed to consider all of the technological advancements and new information detailed in the State’s plan,” he said. “Instead of doing any new work or review, they relied exclusively on a political memo prepared more than ten years ago.”

Alaska’s state government will ask FWS Director Dan Ashe to reconsider Haskett’s decision, Parnell said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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