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Vol. 17, No. 52 Week of December 23, 2012
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

NPR-A integrated activity plan, final EIS, draw mixed reviews

The Department of Interior released the integrated activity plan and final environmental impact statement, final IAP/EIS, for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Dec. 19.

This is the first plan for the entire NPR-A.

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar described key elements of the department’s preferred alternative, B-2, in August (see story in Aug. 19 issue of Petroleum News). In a memorandum to the Bureau of Land Management about the final release, Salazar said it “provides access to nearly 12 million acres of the NPR-A for oil and gas leasing, with a special focus on lands in the eastern portion of the NPR-A where development interest is highest due to the size of the resource and proximity” to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

The Federal Register publication will be Dec. 28, the department said, and will start a minimum 30-day review period before issuance of a final decision by the secretary.

The plan drew praise from environmental groups, concern from industry, and mixed reviews from Alaska’s congressional delegation.

Congressional delegation

The state’s junior senator, Democrat Mark Begich, said he was pleased federal officials listened to his demands to allow oil development and shipment through NPR-A, but said the department hasn’t done enough to clear hurdles for development inside NPR-A.

Begich said he would “keep up the full court press on the Obama administration over the next few weeks to make sure our state’s onshore and offshore resources can be delivered to TAPS and to market.”

Alaska’s senior senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, said she continues “to be concerned that the management plan chosen by the administration greatly restricts access to our nation’s oil and natural gas resources, especially in the eastern portion of the petroleum reserve.”

She said while Salazar attempted in a memorandum to BLM “to clarify that pipelines may be constructed across the petroleum reserve, I remain concerned, however, that the plan sets up roadblocks to an economically feasible project.”

The state’s lone representative, Don Young, a Republican, called the plan “misguided” and said he remains “concerned about the economic feasibility of future pipelines it would allow.”

He said as producers begin to develop offshore, “they must have a feasible route to connect with the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline” through NPR-A.

Pros and cons

AOGA, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, called the plan a setback for oil and gas development in Alaska.

“While the plan does attempt to accommodate for a potential pipeline corridor, it is clearly a win for environmental organizations and those who advocate for locking up Alaska’s natural resources,” AOGA Executive Director Kara Moriarty said in a statement.

Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, said “The BLM’s decision is based on sound science,” said called it a “strategy that balances the nation’s demand for energy with the need to protect America’s public lands.”

Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League called alternative B-2 “the right balance” and thanked the department “for listening to the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group, to the regional and local tribes of Alaska, and to the over 400,000 Americans who showed their support for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.”

Salazar’s Dec. 19 memo to BLM asked for input from the agency on two issues, saying he wanted to specifically address them in his upcoming record of decision.

The first issue, also a concern for the state’s congressional delegation, is potential construction of a pipeline or pipelines through NPR-A to transport oil from offshore locations.

“I believe that the final plan should state with clarity that the plan will allow for the construction of such pipelines,” Salazar said. Construction approaches would need to take into account special areas and river crossings, but “nothing in the IAP/EIS is intended to act as a bar to potential pipelines or otherwise make construction of such pipelines impracticable,” Salazar said.

While a pipeline proposal would go through a National Environmental Policy Act public process, “we should be clear that this Integrated Activity Plan does not preclude any such potential pipeline applications,” he said.

The other issue Salazar addressed in the memo was concerns expressed by some North Slope residents “regarding the scope of certain protected areas, including the protected area south of Teshekpuk Lake, and the scope of the Utukok Uplands protections.”

He asked for additional outreach from Interior and BLM officials to local communities prior to the record of decision, with a focus on how Interior “can engage in a continuing dialogue with local communities and tribes on key implementation issues that will rise under the NPR-A’s Integrated Activity Plan,” such as future pipeline issues, leasing questions, subsistence issues and related matters.

The documents are available on the BLM-Alaska website at www.blm.gov/ak.

—Kristen Nelson



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