BLM takes second look
Feds to loosen restrictions, offer more acreage, in northeast NPR-A
Petroleum News Editor-in-Chief
Henri Bisson, Bureau of Land Management Alaska state director, said April 15 that BLM plans to amend the 1998 land use plan for 4.6 million acres in the northeast planning area of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
Bisson told the Resource Development Council in November that the agency was “strongly considering amending the NPR-A northeast plan.” If BLM proceeded with amendments, he said then: “We would propose to revisit several issues, including the areas that are currently available for leasing in the NPR-A” and changing “the exploration and development stipulations and mitigation measures to be identical to the ones that are being developed in the ongoing NPR-A northwest plan.”
Both of those objectives are now under consideration, the agency said in an April 15 statement: reevaluating the current plan to include exploration in areas “that could provide access to significant new oil discoveries” and considering “changing the current prescriptive stipulations into a mixture of prescriptive and performance-based stipulations similar to those being developed” for the NPR-A northwest planning area.
Teshekpuk Lake areaUnder the 1998 land use plan, the area around Teshekpuk Lake was not offered for leasing and a boundary around that non-leased area was offered for lease, but no surface occupancy was allow.
Peter Ditton, BLM’s associate state director for Alaska, said the area is important both for oil resources and as a development base.
While the Teshekpuk Lake area is both “an important caribou habitat” and “a significant breeding and molting ground for several sensitive waterfowl species,” Ditton said, the result of withholding the Teshekpuk Lake area from leasing was to exclude from leasing the “Barrow Arch east plays” estimated to contain some 2 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil.
Ditton said industry actions support the agency’s view: A ConocoPhillips (Alaska)-Anadarko Petroleum partnership and BP bidding separately leased a perimeter around the withdrawn area and ConocoPhillips-Anadarko also leased the outer continental shelf portion of the Barrow Arch.
He also said that Teshekpuk Lake development is connected to development of the surrounding area: the OCS Barrow arch play depends on “an intermediate onshore facility,” as is development of “smaller discontinuous reservoirs” in the northwest planning area of NPR-A.
Performance based stipulationsBisson said knowledge gained during four years of exploration work in the northeast NPR-A gives the agency confidence that the area can be explored safely “without significant impact to sensitive wildlife and subsistence resources. We also believe that we can develop critical hydrocarbon resources in a manner that protects these same values.”
Technology for developing oil and gas has improved since Prudhoe Bay was developed. The agency’s model for surface development in the Teshekpuk Lake area is Alpine, said Ditton. This most recent of onshore North Slope developments — it began producing in 2000 — is a roadless development, with drilling and production on a main compact pad with an adjacent runway.
The plan for the northeast NPR-A contains specific stipulations.
What BLM is considering, Ditton said, is performance-based stipulations, based on objectives rather than fixed rules, allowing the agency to adapt to changing technology.
He said an example of current requirements is that pipelines to be five feet off the ground to allow caribou passage. Performance based requirement would require pipelines to be high enough to allow free movement of caribou, setting the goal to be met rather than requiring a method which could become outmoded as technology changes.
Money is also an issue, Bisson said. BLM looks at plans every five years, but funding is such that they can only be revised every 10 to 15 years. Goal-based requirements, he said, could give plans a long and useful life by providing more flexibility up front.
Another goal for the North Slope is to have one uniform plan across the NPR-A, Bisson said. The proposed plan for the northwest NPR-A, out now in draft form, is different than the 1998 plan for the northeast.
Supplemental EISAn environmental impact statement was prepared for the NPR-A northeast planning area, and Bisson said a supplemental EIS will be prepared for amendments to the plan. The agency will release a schedule for revising the plan and there will be opportunities for public comment. He said opportunities for North Slope residents to comment will be scheduled to allow for subsistence activities. The amendments are expected to include both prescriptive and performance-based stipulations.
Bisson said he expects the process to be complete by the end of 2004.