Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
February 2018

Vol. 23, No.6 Week of February 11, 2018

Enviros challenge NPR-A lease sale

Want sale nullified as illegal, saying BLM should have first conducted a formal analysis of the potential environmental impacts

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

In two separate lawsuits filed in the federal District Court in Alaska, environmental organizations have challenged the legality of the Bureau of Land Managementís December oil and gas lease sale for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. In the lease sale ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum expanded their lease holdings in the northeastern part of the reserve.

The Northern Alaska Environmental Center, the Alaska Wilderness League, the Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society filed one appeal, while the Natural Resource Defense Council, the Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace and the Friends of the Earth filed the other.

Both lawsuits challenge the legitimacy of the lease sale on the grounds that the sale contravened the National Environmental Policy Act, because BLM did not carry out an assessment of the potential environmental impacts of the sale prior to conducting the sale. Under the terms of NEPA, any significant federal action that could impact the environment requires an environmental evaluation, potentially leading to a formal environmental assessment or the development of an environmental impact statement.

Integrated activity plan

The lawsuits accept that the land tracts offered for lease in the sale were available for leasing under an Integrated Activity Plan developed in 2013 for the reserve. That IAP was vetted through an environmental impact statement, the result of which was the exclusion of much of the northern part of the reserve from industrial development, including the biologically sensitive Teshekpuk Lake.

But the conducting of a lease sale is, in itself, a significant federal action, warranting a NEPA review, the lawsuits say. Since the publication of the IAP, BLM has conducted annual NPR-A lease sales without any additional environmental assessment or environmental impact statement but limiting land tracts on offer to those allowed under the terms of the IAP. The agency apparently determined that the environmental assessment associated with the IAP was sufficient for the lease sales, and that no new information had come available to alter that assessment.

With ConocoPhillips using the sales to expand its area of operations in the reserve, moving closer to Teshekpuk Lake, the conducting of the recent lease sale did require formal NEPA analysis, to evaluate the potential impact of the evolving industrial development in the region, the lawsuits argue. One lawsuit asks that the court declare the 2017 lease sale unlawful, with all leases purchased in the lease sale cancelled. The other lawsuit requests the same court action for both the 2016 and the 2017 sales.

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