October 07, 1998 --- Vol. 4, No. 49October 1998

Babbitt gives green light to NPR-A lease sale for next year; Barrow Arch area excluded

Today Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt signed the record of decision for the 4.6 million acre Northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska final integrated activity plan/environmental impact statement, which allows for an oil and gas lease sale in the northeast quadrant of NPR-A in 1999. The ROD adopts the Bureau of Land Management's preferred alternative for management of the area.

The decision makes available to oil and gas leasing approximately 87 percent of the northeast quadrant. Approximately 580,000 acres will not be made available for leasing, an area Interior said that “encompasses nearly all of the key goose molting habitat and critical caribou habitat.”

Another 900,000 acres that is available for oil and gas leasing prohibits all surface activity, or allows only exploratory drilling and essential road and/or pipeline crossings. Special stipulations protect subsistence and provide protection for the resource values found in the planning area.

"I have instructed the Bureau of Land Management to begin the next step in the process," Babbitt said. "The BLM will develop a schedule to implement the complex components of the decision, including a schedule for conducting an oil and gas lease sale." Babbitt did not specify an exact sale date next year.

The decision will direct the BLM to exclude from oil and gas leasing nearly all of the area of shallow lakes north and east of Teshekpuk Lake. It also excludes important calving and insect relief areas for caribou. Similarly, the decision prohibits permanent oil and gas surface occupancy on Teshekpuk Lake and other locations important for fish and subsistence use.

The acreage excluded includes the Barrow Arch area, which is widely believed to be the most prospective by industry.

Surface development of oil and gas is prohibited on nearly one-third of the study area.

Gov. Tony Knowles said he was “pleased with the Secretary’s announcement to proceed with leasing in the petroleum reserve.”

While today's announcement fell short of Alaska's preferred plan to open the entire 4.6 million-acre study area to leasing, the governor said that with appropriate safeguards for environmentally sensitive areas, proceeding with the sale represents a good beginning.

“I am confident that as industry demonstrates how new technology and modern drilling techniques minimize the impact of development on the tundra, we will see further areas within the reserve opened to leasing. The Interior Department did not make any permanent withdrawals from study area so that option is still open in the future,” said Knowles.

Copies of the ROD are available at BLM’s Anchorage office at 222 West 7th Ave. (271-5960)

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