Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry
May 2019

Vol. 24, No.19 Week of May 12, 2019

F&W has sale questions

Recommends restrictive ANWR leasing; has concerns about potential O&G impacts

Alan Bailey

Petroleum News

Public comments released for the draft environmental impact statement for proposed oil and gas lease sales in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge include a 59-page, March 13 filing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The agency has recommended alternative D2, the most restrictive of the alternatives proposed for the lease sale program. The agency also listed numerous issues of concern, with recommendations for mitigation actions, regarding the potential impacts of oil and gas activities on the environment of the ANWR coastal plain.

An added purpose

Under the terms of the Federal Tax Act of 2017, the provision of an oil and gas program on the so-called 1002 area of the coastal plain was made a purpose of ANWR, in addition to the refuge’s environmental conservation objectives. The Bureau of Land Management, within the Department of Interior, has been assigned the task of managing and organizing a lease sale program for the coastal plain and, ultimately, the task of overseeing any oil and gas activities that result from a lease sale. Fish and Wildlife, another agency within Interior, manages environmental conservation in the refuge and has been participating in the EIS development.

By contrast, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, at the western end of the North Slope, is not a wildlife refuge and is entirely managed by BLM.

In its comment filing Fish and Wildlife said that it is required to manage ANWR in a manner consistent with all purposes of the refuge, including the need for fish and wildlife conservation, the need to meet the obligations of international treaties relating to natural habitats, and the need to support subsistence use by local communities, in addition to accommodating the new oil and gas program.

Alternative D2

The agency said that alternative D2 includes recommendations that the agency had made during the preparation of the draft EIS. The alternative would help maintain the quality of the rivers in the refuge and is the most consistent of the alternatives with regard to the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the agency said.

In order to protect biological and ecological resources, alternative D2 would place some parts of the coastal plain off limits to oil and gas leasing - just over 1 million acres of the 1.5 million acres of the 1002 area would be offered. And, to mitigate impacts on caribou summer habitat, the alternative would place timing restriction on oil and gas operations in 204,700 acres. Surface operations would be banned on 708,600 acres. Restrictions on surface use would apply to 123,900 acres. And activities in all parts of the area would require specific approvals, rather than be subject to standard terms and conditions.

In its filing, Fish and Wildlife asked for more explicit recognition of its role as the land and surface estate manager for ANWR, with a recommendation that BLM should be required to consult with Fish and Wildlife regarding any oil and gas activities that impact surface resources, to reach consensus decisions on actions such as plan approvals and the issuance of permits.

The agency expressed particular concern about the need to protect polar bear denning habitat. Although a lease sale in itself has no environmental impact, the issue of oil and gas leases would grant rights to activities with surface impacts. Lessees need to understand that, to ensure compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, there would need to be restrictions on activities that overlap with bear denning habitat and denning activities, Fish and Wildlife said.

Seismic surveying

Fish and Wildlife also questioned what it says is an incorrect assumption that 3-D seismic surveying can be conducted on the coastal plain prior to a record of decision on the EIS. The potential surveying has a bearing on environmental impacts considered throughout the EIS document, the agency said. Moreover, the analysis in the EIS may significantly underestimate the area of land potentially impacted by the surveying, and the timing of the surveying is uncertain, the agency said.

The Tax Act requires each lease sale to offer at least 400,000 acres of the highest hydrocarbon potential for leasing. But there is no clear definition of what is meant by acreage of highest hydrocarbon potential, Fish and Wildlife commented.

The agency also raised concerns about the potential for industrial activity to introduce invasive species into ANWR, arguing that there should be more specific stipulations for how the introduction of invasive species should be prevented, or how the unwanted species should be removed if accidentally introduced. In addition, the EIS needs to further address the potential impacts of the changing Arctic environment, including the effect of the melting of the permafrost and ice wedge degradation on infrastructure in the region.

Spill response plans

More specific stipulations for required oil spill prevention and response plans are needed, including requirements for the availability of adequate spill response capabilities, Fish and Wildlife said.

Other issues that Fish and Wildlife has raised include the need to protect rivers officially designated as “wild and scenic”; the value of effective cross referencing to information in other EIS and planning documents relating to Arctic Alaska; a requirement that all environmental impact data obtained in conjunction with development activities should be provided to BLM and to Fish and Wildlife; and the need for an assessment of the potential impact of industrial activities on other permitted activities in the region, such as commercial hunting, fishing and recreation.

Fish and Wildlife’s document continues with more than 50 pages of comments on specific stipulations and on required operating procedures for industrial activities set out in the draft EIS.

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