August 06, 1998 --- Vol. 4, No. 39August 1998

Babbitt presents proposal for oil and gas leasing in NPR-A

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt today released his proposal for managing the 4.6 million acre northeast quadrant of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Taking into account the oil and gas industry's ability to reach some reserves through directional drilling, Babbitt’s plan makes 87 percent — approximately 4 million acres — of the northeast quadrant of NPR-A available for leasing. Lease terms on 900,000 of those 4 million acres would either prohibit all surface activity or would allow only exploratory drilling and essential road and/or pipeline crossings. Special stipulations would protect subsistence hunting and fishing and provide protection for the resource values found in the planning area.

About two-thirds of the area that the oil industry had designated “high interest,” including the Barrow Arch, will be opened to leasing under his plan, the Secretary said in a press conference.

“The 580,000 acre area barred from leasing encompasses a zone of shallow lakes and tundra where thousands of geese molt each year and where the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd calves in most years,” Babbitt’s office said in a written statement.

The Secretary said that he expects the Bureau of Land Management to be ready to hold an NPR-A oil and gas lease sale by “spring or summer 1999.”

Areas that have been barred from leasing include one-quarter mile barriers around all lakes that contain fish, as well as “key environmentally sensitive areas around Teshekpuk Lake and the Colville River,” said Babbitt.

Under the preferred alternative, BLM will make nearly all of the shallow lakes area north and east of Teshekpuk Lake unavailable for oil and gas leasing.

Babbitt’s plan would also establish procedures so the people of the North Slope would be consulted before activities that may affect them could be conducted; establish a subsistence advisory panel; establish an interagency research and monitoring team made up of federal agencies, the state of Alaska, the North Slope Borough and others to coordinate research and monitor the effectiveness of stipulations on surface resources; develop a new management plan for the Colville River area and its resources; limit road construction to drilling areas; establish one-mile facility setbacks (other than pipelines and roads) around cabins and campsites.

BLM is accepting comments from individuals or organizations through Sept. 8. A record of decision is expected by the end of the year, Babbitt said.

Knowles applauds, AOGA “encouraged,” by reopening of NPR-A

Gov. Tony Knowles today applauded Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's decision to reopen the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to responsible oil leasing.

"All along, my philosophy has been to 'do it right'," Knowles said. "I believe by using sound science, prudent management that ensures conservation of resources, and the best available technology, such as directional drilling and ice roads, we can reduce the footprint of development and responsibly develop our resources while protecting wildlife and the environment. ...

"... The public has 30 days in which to respond and we'll need that time to digest everything in this thick report," Knowles said. "I've asked our biologists, geologists and economists to give the department's recommendations close scrutiny. I think we can

recommend some improvements to make some additional progress. First, I want to hear again from the stakeholders and also to see whether adequate areas of high oil potential are being offered to make development economically feasible."

The Alaska Oil & Gas Association said in a statement that it is “encouraged by Secretary Babbitt’s decision to begin the process to allow renewed oil and gas leasing in a portion of” NPR-A.

The organization said it has not had time to review the 1,300 page final Environmental Impact Statement that was released today by the Department of the Interior, so was not able to comment in detail. AOGA, whose 19 member companies account for the majority of oil and gas exploration, production, transportation and refining in Alaska, did say that it continues to support leasing of the “entire northeast planning area.”

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