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Vol. 15, No. 26 Week of June 27, 2010
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Feds get 52,000 comments on ANWR future

Question of wilderness designation for coastal plain sparks spirited oil and gas debate, with wide range of interests weighing in

Wesley Loy

For Petroleum News

If anybody wonders whether the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge still matters to the American people, just ask the landlord.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received an estimated 52,000-plus responses to its recent call for public comments on a pending update of ANWR’s “comprehensive conservation plan.”

The plan will help guide future management of the refuge in Alaska’s extreme northeast corner. At more than 19 million acres, the refuge is about the size of South Carolina.

The Fish and Wildlife Service has said it might recommend additional acreage within the refuge for designation as wilderness, perhaps even the western coastal plain, or what’s known as the 1002 area.

Congress would have to approve any new wilderness. And whether to allow oil and gas exploration on the coastal plain also is a congressional call.

Encompassing 1.5 million acres, the coastal plain has been the subject of an epic struggle between conservationists fighting to keep it closed to drillers, and industry and political leaders who want it opened.

Deferring to the exclusive authority of Congress, the Fish and Wildlife Service said it wouldn’t consider or respond to comments for or against oil and gas activity in preparing the new comprehensive conservation plan.

But many people nevertheless dwell heavily on the oil and gas question in their public comments to the agency.

Sharon Seim, planning team leader for ANWR in Fairbanks, said a contractor is working on a summary of the outpouring of written comments, which were due by June 7.

Two organizations, Seim said, rallied thousands of form letters: The Wilderness Society, which supports wilderness designation for the coastal plain, and the Consumer Energy Alliance, which opposes it.

Petroleum News requested a sampling of the ANWR comments, including those from specific persons, companies and organizations. Seim noted the comments she provided “do not necessarily present a balanced view of all the comments we received.”

Here are some excerpts:

North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta:

“Among all of the concerned stakeholders, none understands better than the Borough the decades-old controversy surrounding the long-term management of ANWR. Lying as it does entirely within our borders, land that is seen as vast, remote, strange and somehow magical to others is simply home to our people.”

“Beyond the oil and gas question, for our community of Kaktovik to find itself surrounded by designated wilderness would severely limit options for its future economic development.”

“Onshore oil and gas development is a major economic opportunity for Kaktovik and the North Slope Borough.”

“The FWS should keep in mind that while this area is sparsely populated, it is populated. The people living here should not be denied opportunities to improve their standard of living.”

The Episcopal Church, Office of Government Relations:

“The Episcopal Church has long opposed drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge not only because of our concern for and stewardship of God’s creation, but because of our commitment to standing with the Gwich’in Nation, which represents one of the only native Anglican nations in the world. The exploitation of fossil fuels that contribute to global warming threatens both the subsistence rights of the Gwich’in people — more than 90 percent of whom are Episcopalian — and their culture as well. The calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou in Alaska’s North Slope are sacred to the Gwich’in people, and the Episcopal Church supports the Gwich’in in calling for full protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”

Alaska Senate Minority Leader Con Bunde, R-Anchorage:

“The effort to block further domestic oil and gas development seems to be driven largely by those who feel we drive too many cars and burn too many fossil fuels. The reality is that petrochemicals provide us with a dizzying array of commercial and household products — including plastics, paints, synthetic fibers, detergents, lubricants, and pharmaceuticals, just to name a few — that allow us the standards of safety, convenience, and variety that we all enjoy. Petrochemicals both figuratively and literally fuel our economy. To preclude the development of domestic feedstock for this import industry by closing off areas like ANWR is, at best, short-sighted public policy.”

“Alaska does not need any more wildernesses. We already possess 58 million acres of federal wilderness lands, accounting for 53 percent of America’s total federal wilderness areas. Enough!”

Bob Krear, wildlife biologist:

... also a friend of Olaus and Mardy Murie, wilderness advocates for land that would become ANWR:

“Of course there must never, never be any drilling for oil in the Beaufort Sea north of the Refuge! Oil spills would be inevitable, and the prevailing northerly winds would bring it all back to the Refuge coast. If such drill sites already exist in the Sea above and to the west of Prudhoe Bay, one wonders what that coastline looks like!”

Richard Ranger, senior policy adviser, upstream, American Petroleum Institute:

“Oil and gas operations are not unknown on wildlife refuge lands. About one-quarter, or 155, of the over 500 refuges, wetlands management districts and other lands administered by USFWS, have past or current oil and gas activities, some dating to at least the 1920s.”

“API believes that miles to the west of the Arctic NWR, the industry is demonstrating that responsible development of Alaska’s resources is an exercise in balance, involving production of vital national energy resources, protection of the environment and wildlife, coordination with residents of the North Slope Borough and its communities and respect for their subsistence way of life.”

Alaska House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski:

“Alaska’s statehood compact rests on its ability to produce its own natural resources and share in the production of resource extraction from federal lands. With diminished Prudhoe Bay production, Alaska’s rural and urban citizens must rely for future jobs and government services on oil and gas production from federal, as well as state lands. The most prospective public land areas are ANWR and Alaska’s OCS (mostly shallow water) areas. To not responsibly pursue these economic lifelines will imperil the lifestyles, and even the existence, of most Alaskans.”

David Jenkins, VP for government and political affairs, Republicans for Environmental Protection:

“Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) is a national grassroots organization that has been working for years to safeguard the Arctic Refuge. Unfortunately, much of that effort has been necessarily focused on preventing oil development on the Refuge’s coastal plain.

“We hope to see the day when the future of the Arctic Refuge as a wild and untrammelled landscape is secure. While REP is involved in many important issues, none have generated the level of member engagement that our work related to the Arctic Refuge has.”

“While our members are dedicated conservationists, they also recognize that natural resource stewardship requires a balanced approach. …They see the oil drilling in Prudhoe Bay and in other parts of Alaska’s North Slope, they know that vast expanses of Alaska’s Arctic have also been made available for development — and they come to the same conclusion the Eisenhower Administration came to 50 years ago — that protecting the Arctic Refuge represents balance.”

Marilyn Crockett, executive director, Alaska Oil and Gas Association: ...representing companies such as BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell:

AOGA notes the shrinking size of the oil and gas industry’s operational footprint.

“For example, the pad size for drilling operations on the North Slope has been reduced by over 90 percent. Wells used to require at least 120 feet between each other, where now the same well can be placed just 10 feet from the next one. Not only can wells be placed closer to each other, the depths and reach of the wells are enhanced by what is known as “extended reach” drilling. These extended reach wells target resources up to eight miles from the surface location of the drilling rig, which allows much more reservoir area to be drained from a single production pad on the surface.”

“Alaska continues to be a success story for the famed Central Arctic caribou herd. When oil and gas activities began in the 1970s, the herd consisted of approximately 5,000 animals. Almost 35 years later, the herd now numbers over 60,000.”

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