Alaska to submit plans to run 3D seismic on ANWR's coastal plain

July 15, 2013
Alaska will officially submit plans to conduct 3D seismic tests on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the federal government, state officials announced on July 9.

Alaska will officially submit plans to conduct 3D seismic tests on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the federal government, state officials announced on July 9.

The state is acting under Section 1002(e) of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA), Gov. Sean Parnell (R) said during a press conference in Anchorage. When it passed the law, Congress deferred a decision regarding future management of the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain, or 1002 Area, because of its potentially enormous oil and gas resources and its importance as wildlife habitat.

"The 1002 Area of ANWR holds enormous promise for Alaska and for our nation," Parnell said. "Federal law provides clear direction and mandates a number of actions that the Interior Secretary must take upon the submission of a 1002 Area exploration plan. We look forward to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell's prompt review and approval of this exploration plan."

He said the state submitted a detailed proposal to Jewell on May 18 and offered to help finance seismic studies there (OGJ Online, May 20, 2013). The secretary rejected the proposal in late June, so the state is submitting a formal exploration plan and special use permit application for the area, Parnell said.

"Under this plan, we're seeking a special use permit to allow the state to collect modern 3D seismic data across the 1002 Area," said Alaska Natural Resources Commission Dan Sullivan, who also participated in the press conference. The federal government allowed 2D seismic to be run there in the early 1980s and allows 3D in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, he noted.

'Much better idea'

"This is a world-class document. There are probably one to two organizations besides the State of Alaska that could put something like this together," Sullivan maintained. "We can get a much better idea of what's in the 1002 Area without making significant impacts on the tundra. I think the key question for the Department of the Interior as it looks at this is why it wouldn't want to know what resources lie beneath this area."

The state's congressional delegation welcomed the announcement. "The coastal plain holds valuable oil and natural gas resources, which is why Congress reserved it for oil production more than 30 years ago," said US Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), the Energy and Natural Resources Committee's ranking minority member.

"Any effort to change the way the area is managed must only be considered with the best available information," she said, adding, "Gov. Parnell's offer to help pay for a full resource assessment of the coastal plain using 3D seismic is generous, sensible, and legally allowed under the 1980 Lands Act."

Alaska's other US senator, Mark Begich (D), added, "The Obama administration is wrong in opposing oil and gas exploration and development in the Arctic Refuge, which I've been telling them for five years. Alaskans have proven we know how to responsibly develop oil and gas in some of harshest conditions on earth."

'Share this curiosity'

"Regardless of one's stance on opening ANWR, Alaskans and Americans deserve to know what they own," said Don Young (R), the state's lone US House member. "A good, responsible land manager should share this curiosity, and I look forward to Secretary of Interior Jewell's response to this reasonable request."

Environmental organizations condemned the move. "What part of 'no' do they not understand?" said Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League in Washington. "Development in [ANWR's] biologically sensitive Coastal Plain is a non-starter for the Obama administration, [which] declared just last week in a letter to Gov. Parnell that seismic activity in the Arctic Refuge is illegal without an act of Congress and a policy that the administration firmly opposes."

Parnell said if Jewell approves the application, which he said is rooted in federal law, the state would begin its tests in 2014 and confine activities to winter periods over 3 years. "For so long, we've been told no," he said. "Yet the federal government, as public land managers, owes it to the people to better understand what oil and gas resources actually lie under that land and could possibly be developed."

Sullivan said, "Debates over ANWR can be a tired mantra, with some people favoring opening it for oil and gas development and others opposing it. We're saying to the federal government let's find out what's there. If [it] won't act, the state will."