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Vol. 25, No.27 Week of July 05, 2020
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

More NPR-A leasing allowed; final IAP/EIS adds 7 million acres

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Kristen Nelson

Petroleum News

The U.S. Department of the Interior has released a final environmental impact statement for a new National Petroleum Reserve Alaska integrated activity plan. Interior said in a press release that 7 million additional acres would be opened for energy development under the preferred alternative in the FEIS, a total of 18.7 million acres.

More than 4 million acres are closed to leasing under the FEIS, including the previously closed Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay special areas.

There would be no surface occupancy stipulations and timing limitations in the Teshekpuk Lake special area. That area has been completely closed to leasing under the current activity plan.

“We’ve looked to open up some additional areas to leasing based on new information while also using management prescriptions to protect important wildlife, habitat, and subsistence uses,” said BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett.

BLM said the IAP/EIS “includes special measures to address concerns and interests of the communities of Wainwright, Atqasuk, Nuiqsut, and Utqiagvik including leasing deferral areas, setback along important subsistence rivers, flexibility for potential community infrastructure projects, and special management for split estate lands where occupancy stipulations can be waived by the land owner.”

The EIS was initiated in November 2018 to develop a new management strategy for all BLM-managed public lands in NPR-A.

BLM will prepare a record of decision which may be published no earlier than 30 days after the June 26 official notice of availability of the EIS in the Federal Register.

BLM was the lead agency. Cooperating agencies were the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, National Park Service, North Slope Borough, State of Alaska and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Five alternatives

BLM manages nearly 23 million acres of public lands in NPR-A. The final IAP/EIS has five alternatives, including BLM’s preferred alternative, Alternative E.

In addition to four action alternatives, a no action alternative (Alternative A) would continue current management as approved in the 2013 NPR-A IAP record of decision, and would allow oil and gas leasing on some 52%, 11.8 million acres, of NPR-A subsurface estate.

Alternative B is similar to Alternative A, the agency said, but would increase land set aside for conservation, decreasing land available for leasing to some 10.9 million acres, 48% of subsurface.

Alternative C would increase the number of acres open to leasing to some 17.3 million acres, 76% of the subsurface. Alternative D would open more land to leasing, some 18.6 million acres, 82%, and the area closed to new infrastructure would decrease to some 4.4 million acres.

Alternative E, BLM’s preferred alternative, would open the most land to leasing, some 18.7 million acres, 82% of subsurface, and the area closed to new infrastructure would decrease to some 4.3 million acres.

BLM said all the action alternatives include a mix of lease stipulations and required operating procedures with measures to avoid or mitigate surface damage and minimize ecological disturbance.

Alternative B

BLM said Alternative B is similar to Alternative A, the no action alternative, but increases land set aside for conservation “while allowing operators access for transporting oil from State offshore leases to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.”

The increase in land closed to leasing would account for new resource data, preventing additional development in habit used by the Teshekpuk caribou herd and molting geese.

There would, however, be two north-south pipeline corridors in the Teshekpuk Lake special area, to allow for linear right of way to transport oil and gas from offshore leases through areas otherwise closed to new infrastructure, although specific locations of such corridors are not part of the plan.

Alternative B recommends the 12 suitable rivers for designation in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Alternative C

Alternative C increases the area open to leasing to 17.3 million acres, 76% of the subsurface estate, by reducing acres closed to leasing in the Teshekpuk Lake special area and within the Utukok River uplands special area, with the area closed to new infrastructure decreased to some 4.9 million acres. Both the Teshekpuk Lake and Utukok River special areas would retain core areas unavailable for leasing and closed to new infrastructure.

One north-south pipeline corridor east of Teshekpuk Lake would be provided in Teshekpuk Lake special area, allowing for linear rights of way to transport oil and gas from offshore leases through areas otherwise closed to new infrastructure.

The southern and eastern portions of the Utukok River uplands special area would be available for new infrastructure.

Alternative C would not recommend any rivers for addition to the NWSRS, but BLM would manage the existing 12 suitable rivers to protect their free flow, water quality and outstandingly remarkable values.

Alternative D

Alternative D would make 18.6 million acres, 82% of the subsurface, available to leasing, with the area closed to new infrastructure decreasing to some 4.4 million acres.

Management of the Utukok River uplands, Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay special areas would be the same as Alternative C, but all of the Teshekpuk Lake special area would be available for leasing, “with impacts on caribou calving habitat and important bird habitat partially mitigated through no surface occupancy stipulations and timing limitations.”

No pipeline corridors would be needed in Alternative D because more areas would be open for new infrastructure, including where pipelines may be needed to transport oil and gas from offshore leases. And, as with Alternative C, no rivers would be recommended for addition to NWSRS, but BLM would manage the existing 12 rivers as in Alternative C.

Alternative E — preferred alternative

Alternative E, BLM’s preferred alternative, would make the most land open to leasing, some 18.7 million acres, 82% of NPR-A subsurface, with the area closed to new infrastructure decreasing to some 4.3 million acres.

Management of the Kasegaluk Lagoon and Peard Bay special areas would be the same as under Alternatives C and D.

“All of the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area would be available for leasing, with impacts on caribou calving habitat and important bird habitat partially mitigated through no surface occupancy stipulations and timing limitations.”

There will be a core area in the Utukok River uplands special area that would not be available for leasing and new infrastructure, “a corridor where leasing and infrastructure would be allowed subject to a timing limitation, and a caribou mitigation corridor along the southern boundary that would be available for leasing subject to no surface occupancy and that would allow essential road and pipeline crossings.”

There would be no need for pipeline corridors because more areas would be open to new infrastructure, and as with Alternatives C and D, no rivers would be recommended for addition to NWSRS, but BLM would manage the rivers as with Alternatives C and D.

Support

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy thanked the Department of the Interior and the Trump administration for “working closely with Alaskans to better balance federal land usage in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska.”

Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game noted that Alaska is the nation’s only Arctic state, and said “it was refreshing that the Federal Administration considered Alaska’s science and our local understanding of the subtle environmental nuance that is Alaska’s North Slope when making this critical decision in its EIS for the conservation of the environment and the security of this Nation.” Vincent-Lang said he was confident the oil and gas resources in NPR-A could be developed in a manner that “conserves the fish and wildlife resources and their uses.”

Alaska’s congressional delegation, U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski, Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, all Republicans, welcomed the final EIS on the NPR-A integrated activity plan.

“As Alaskans work toward economic recovery, having a robust plan to unlock the potential of one of the most promising areas on the North Slope is a powerful tool,” Murkowski said. “NPR-A holds billions of barrels of oil that will ensure the continued operation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and support good jobs for thousands of Alaskans.”

“This is a key milestone in fixing the flaws of the 2013 IAP and ensuring we can fill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, through reasonable access and development as the NPR-A was intended under its original purposes,” Sullivan said.

Young said, “The release of the final EIS for the updated Integrated Activity Plan is welcome news for our state and the North Slope communities whose livelihoods depend on energy exploration.”

Opposition

David Krause, Alaska assistant director of The Wilderness Society, said the final environmental impact statement was expected, and called it “another sad and harmful development in this administration’s shameful race to destroy public lands by auctioning off wild, irreplaceable ecosystems for industrial development. With a disregard for science and the climate reality the planet faces, this is no time to be dismantling conservation protections for fragile Arctic landscapes (upon) which wildlife and people depend.”

Krause called the existing integrated activity plan “thoughtful and science-based.”

Kristen Miller, conservation director at Alaska Wilderness League, said the 2013 IAP reflected years of “working with tribal communities, the state of Alaska, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd Working Group.” She called the new plan “a rushed alternative that received no public oversight” and said it “would endanger the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area, one of the most productive wetland complexes in the world and an important calving ground for the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd, an important source of good and culture for communities on the North Slope.”

- KRISTEN NELSON



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