March 18, 1999 --- Vol. 5, No. 13March 1999

Some federal agencies prefer longer undersea pipeline for Northstar

With the U.S. Corps of Engineers working toward a March 22 target for a record of decision on permits for the Northstar project, comments from some federal agencies on the final environmental impact statement favor the route with the longest offshore subsea buried pipeline segment.

In a separate process, BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. has applied for a pipeline right-of-way permit for the shortest route to shore, and Joint Pipeline Office spokeswoman Rhea DoBosh told PNA March 12 that "depending on how significant a new route proposal is, it could take anywhere from six months to two years additional for our process."

Corps spokesman John Killoran told PNA March 15 that issuing or denying a permit are not the only options; the corps can offer to grant a permit with conditions.

The state and the North Slope Borough favor BP's proposed route because is has the shortest offshore segment and Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner John Shively told PNA he was "perplexed as to why several federal agencies insist on increasing the risk" with a longer offshore segment.

The U.S. Department of the Interior sided with the Fish and Wildlife Service, and against the Minerals Management Service, in a March 10 letter to the corps, saying it felt alternative 5 (routing pipeline seaward of the barrier islands to a landfall at West Dock) best minimized risks of the project.

BP spokesman Paul Laird told PNA March 15 and the company was disappointed in the conclusions reached by agencies favoring the longer route to shore. "We continue to believe," he said, "that our preferred route, No. 2, is not only the best route overall but the best environmentally." Alternative 5, Laird said, "is 50 percent longer than No. 2." The offshore portion of alternative 2 is 31,480 feet; the offshore portion of alternative 5 is 47,000 feet. Alternative 5, Laird said, would also require an expansion of West Dock by an estimated 250,000 cubic feet of gravel.

Gov. Knowles reiterates state support for shortest pipeline route

Gov. Tony Knowles, in a March 17 letter to Col. Sheldon Jahn of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, strongly reiterated the state's earlier recommendation that the corps approve alternative 2 as the route for the Northstar pipeline.

Alternative 2 is BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc.'s proposed route and has the shortest offshore pipeline segment. The governor noted that both the Northstar development island and all proposed pipeline alternatives are on state land and waters. "The state's authority to regulate oil and gas development facilities and pipelines includes the responsibility for extensive technical and engineering analyses," Knowles said. The technical and engineering analyses which the state performed, and stipulations imposed, address each of the concerns "raised by our review of alternative 2, as well as those raised by proponents of alternative 5," including, he said, "near-shore permafrost and onshore wetland habitat concerns of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?"

The governor noted "the absence of analogous technical and engineering analyses in federal agency comments relative to the erosion, scour, and resulting spill potential of alternative 5."

The state has looked for guidance from local knowledge, Knowles said, and told the corps, "I am troubled that, in recommending alternative 5, the Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service ignore the knowledge and recommendations of the North Slope Borough and the local whaling captains, both of which reflect that the shortest in-water pipeline route provides the greatest protection to bowhead whales."

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