BLM releases NPR-A plan
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Alternatives include status quo, less land for leasing, 2 proposals with more land
With alternatives from the status quo to fewer acres offered for leasing to more acres offered, the federal Bureau of Land Management’s draft environmental impact statement for a new integrated activity plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, released Nov. 21, is drawing a range of reaction.
The agency issued a notice of intent to prepare a new plan Nov. 20, 2018, following up on an order by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at the end of May 2017 which required a rework of the existing NPR-A plan to determine if more land in the reserve could be opened for oil and gas leasing. The plan currently in place was issued in 2013 and places much of the northern part of NPR-A off limits to oil and gas leasing and development. BLM said the secretary’s order responded to requests from the state and the North Slope Borough “to increase opportunities for infrastructure and to help build capacity to support their aligned goals in light or recently increased activity on Alaska’s North Slope.”
“With advancement in technology and increased knowledge of the area, it was prudent to develop a new plan that provides greater economic development of our resources while still providing protections for important resources and subsistence access,” BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said in a statement.
The agency noted that in addition to advances in technology, a 2017 survey by the U.S. Geological Survey calculating a significantly higher estimate of technically recoverable oil required a new NPR-A management strategy. BLM said new information from caribou monitoring reports not available in 2012 also informed the new analysis.
Delegation supportiveThere was swift reaction from Alaska’s congressional delegation - in support of an updated plan - and the environmental community, in support of the existing plan, put in place in 2013 under the administration of President Barack Obama.
“This is a significant step toward a new plan that is more consistent with the legal purposes of the petroleum reserve, which holds the potential for billions of barrels of recoverable oil that can help refill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline,” said U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. “We have recently learned a great deal about the abundant resources of the NPR-A, and updating the deeply flawed 2013 IAP to provide greater access is necessary to reflect our opportunities for responsible development,” she said.
“The previous administration was dead set on locking up the NPR-A, which, in turn, stunted our economy,” said U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska. “The Department of Interior’s efforts to provide a new activity plan furthers our goal of responsible exploration and development, ensuring that Alaska’s resources help the U.S. remain an energy superpower,” he said.
“The resources available in the NPR-A are vast, and very frankly, the Obama Administration’s 2013 IAP was an overly-restrictive disaster for Alaskans who know our lands can be responsibly developed,” said Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska.
The delegation said the 2013 IAP withdrew roughly half of NPR-A from energy development and also noted the 2017 estimate by the USGS that NPR-A contains an estimated 8.7 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil.
Enviros opposedA joint statement by the Alaska Wilderness League, Audubon Alaska, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Northern Alaska Environmental Center, Conservation Lands Foundation, The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Native Movement and Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition took an opposite view of NPR-A and the proposed changes.
“BLM’s proposal would potentially open some of our nation’s most vital natural places to oil and gas exploitation: millions of acres of wilderness-quality lands with critical habitat for migratory birds, brown bears, caribou, threatened polar bears, walrus, whales and more,” the groups said.
Pat Pourchot, who served as special assistant to the Secretary of the Interior for Alaska Affairs under the Obama administration, and is a current member of the Alaska Wilderness League board, said: “Noteworthy is the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area which protects the calving grounds, migration routes and insect relief areas of the Teshekpuk caribou herd, from which local residents harvest between three and five thousand animals annually.” That special area, he said, also “contains internationally important waterfowl nesting, migration and molting areas” and would be opened to oil and gas leasing under Alternatives C and D of the proposed revision.
Leasing alternativesFour alternatives are included.
Alternative A is the status quo, with 11.8 million acres for development under the 2013 record of decision.
That alternative is the “no action alternative” and would continue management of the area as approved under the 2013 record of decision. That alternative makes some 52% of NPR-A subsurface available for oil and gas leasing but does not recommend any rivers for addition to the Wild and Scenic Rivers system.
Alternative B decreases land available for leasing and new infrastructure to 11.4 million acres and designates all special areas as unavailable.
Under Alternative B, land set aside for conservation is increased, but the alternative does allow access for transporting oil from state offshore leases to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Under this alternative 50% of NPR-A would be available for oil and gas leasing.
“In the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, there would be two north-south pipeline corridors provided to allow for linear rights-of-way to transport oil and gas from offshore leases through areas otherwise closed to new infrastructure,” the plan says. Under this alternative, the 12 suitable rivers would be recommended for designation in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Alternative C increases land for leasing and new infrastructure to 17.1 million acres, keeping a core area round Teshekpuk Lake as unavailable.
Under Alternative C, 75% of NPR-A subsurface would be available for leasing - “accomplished by reducing the areas closed to leasing in the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area and within the Utukok River Uplands Special Area.”
One north-south pipeline corridor east of Teshekpuk Lake would be provided for pipeline right of way. No rivers would be recommended for addition to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
Alternative D increases land available for leasing and new infrastructure to 18.3 million acres, opening the entire Teshekpuk Lake special area and parts of the Utukok River Uplands special area. Under this alternative 81% of NPR-A would be available for leasing, including all of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area although surface occupancy would be limited and there would be timing limitations. No pipeline corridors would be needed; no rivers would be recommended for addition to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System.
BLM said that under all alternatives, there would be “a potential community road connecting Nuiqsut and Utqiagvik that is routed north of Teshekpuk Lake.”
“All alternatives allow for applications to construct permanent onshore oil and gas infrastructure to support lease development in both the NPR-A and adjacent areas. This includes infrastructure, such as pipelines, necessary for owners of offshore state and federal leases to bring oil and gas across NPR-A to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.”
BLM said that in addition to the range of leasing options, the revised IAP includes an examination of the current special area boundaries, considerations of new or revised lease stipulations and required operating procedures.
Public comment closes Jan. 21, 2020. BLM said the final IAP/EIS is scheduled to be released in 2020.