ANWR border, land transfer being discussed at highest levels
In last week’s Jan. 6 edition, Petroleum News reported that the Dec. 21 conveyance of 39,995 acres in the Goodnews Bay area to the state of Alaska by the U.S. Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management “cast hope on the state’s efforts to secure approximately 19,322 acres” along the disputed boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, referring to a statement made following the conveyance by Ted Murphy, acting BLM Alaska state director, who said the land transfer was “just one of many we anticipate in the near future.”
While what Murphy said Dec. 21 is true for conveyances related to the full revocation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act withdrawals known as “d-1s” (referring to Section 17(d)(1) in ANCSA), it is not true for the disputed acreage between the Staines and Canning rivers running along the western border of ANWR, the resolution of which would determine the legal boundary.
If the state is awarded the land, existing state leaseholders with undeveloped oil discoveries such as Sourdough and Yukon Gold, thought to hold oil pools that cross under ANWR’s current federal border, would gain valuable real estate - real estate they bid on in state lease sales and were awarded with a caveat acknowledging the boundary dispute.
There are no d-1 selections left for the state in what the feds define as ANWR, Erika Reed told Petroleum News late in the afternoon of Jan. 4 after the Jan. 6 issue of Petroleum News was released online. Reed is BLM Alaska’s deputy state director for lands and cadastral survey.
Instead, Reed said, the decision on the disputed acreage between the Staines and Canning rivers will have to wait on Interior’s Board of Land Appeals, which will take another 18-24 months. IBLA is an administrative law court within the U.S. Department of Interior.
The story doesn’t end with IBLABut that’s not what’s likely to settle the border and land transfer disagreement.
A senior Interior official told Petroleum News Jan. 7 “we are engaged at the highest level with the governor and his staff on the Canning/Staines river boundary issue,” suggesting an agreement could be reached much sooner than a decision from IBLA.
Under the Alaska Statehood Act, which took effect in 1959, the federal government still owes the state approximately 5 million acres.
The acreage between the Canning and Staines rivers continues to be listed as a high priority area by the state, Marty Parsons, deputy director of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Mining, Land and Water, told Petroleum News in early January.
The Goodnews Bay land conveyance was accomplished through a collaborative effort between the state and BLM. A process was identified where BLM could lift a Public Land Order previously complicating the state’s ability to receive title, Parsons said.
“The difference is that no PLO needs to be lifted before the state could receive title” to the wedge of uplands between the Staines and Canning rivers, he said, meaning the conveyance could go through more quickly.
Note: The submerged lands were not withdrawn prior to statehood, Parsons said, and so are not part of the disputed acreage.
- KAY CASHMAN