The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it no longer plans to execute a land swap with Doyon Ltd. in the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. The land swap would have enabled Doyon to obtain some 110,000 acres of refuge lands, and oil and gas rights to an additional 97,000 acres, in the deepest part of the Yukon Flats basin, a basin that the U.S. Geological Survey has assessed as prospective for oil and gas.
Under the terms of an agreement in principle for the land swap the refuge would have acquired a minimum of 150,000 acres of Doyon Yukon Flats land, and Doyon would have re-allocated 56,500 of Doyon refuge land entitlement to locations outside the refuge.
Doyon, the Native regional corporation for the Alaska Interior, hopes to see oil and development in the basin, to generate income for its shareholders and to create economic opportunities for Yukon Flats communities. And some of those communities have supported the land swap concept while others have opposed it.
In the course of conducting an environmental impact statement for the land swap, Fish and Wildlife received more than 100,000 comments, the vast majority of which opposed the swap, the agency said. Concerns focused on environmental conservation; potential impacts on refuge resources, including subsistence resources; the divestiture of Native lands; and the potential impacts of climate change on refuge land.
In addition, USGS geologic studies done since the original plan for the land swap was developed have raised questions regarding the selection of land for the swap, with some existing Doyon land appearing more prospective than originally thought, thus encouraging Doyon to promote development within its Yukon Flats lands, regardless of whether the land swap takes place.
“We appreciate that FWS has decided to complete the NEPA process in an orderly manner, and issue a final environmental impact statement, regardless of their decision. The agency has done a lot of good work updating and analyzing information about the Yukon Flats and the people who live there,” James Mery, Doyon vice president lands and natural resources, told Petroleum News. “We are disappointed that they made no mention in their press release of strong local, tribal support in communities closest to where exploration would likely occur.”
See story in July 12 issue, available online at noon, Friday July 10 at www.PetroleumNews.com