ASTAR program completing its outreach
DNR officials tell House Resources Committee about status of project for advancing infrastructure development on the North Slope
A program for advancing opportunities for new infrastructure development on the North Slope is nearing the end of its outreach phase, working with North Slope communities to identify potential infrastructure projects, Jeff Bruno, large project coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources Office of Project Management and Planning, told the Alaska House Resources Committee on April 26. The program, called Arctic Strategic Transportation and Resources, or ASTAR, started in 2017, when the Legislature appropriated $7.3 million for the project, as a consequence of the amalgamation of several projects, at a time when significant planning activity was underway in the North Slope region, Bruno said.
The overall mission is to identify, evaluate and advance opportunities to use responsible infrastructure development to enhance the quality of life and economic opportunities for communities throughout the North Slope Borough, Bruno said.
Although beefing up the transportation infrastructure is an obvious target of the program, the scope of the program encapsulates any type of infrastructure that demonstrates potential benefits to the communities, in terms of factors such as community connectivity, health, workforce development, education, support for subsistence traditions, and lowering the cost of goods and services. The project represents a collaborative effort between DNR and the North Slope Borough, but with other state and federal agencies also involved, Bruno said.
Engaging stakeholdersWork to date has focused, on the one hand, on engaging stakeholders, to build a library of potential infrastructure projects, and, on the other hand, on assessing what data are available regarding available construction resources, in particular gravel, Bruno told House Resources.
In terms of potential projects, the idea is to identify projects and document the benefits to be gained from them. A cumulative benefits tool will then enable projects to be assessed and evaluated, leading to a second phase of the program, identifying those projects of particular value to the community. Bruno commented that the evaluation method being developed and used could be employed elsewhere in Alaska.
“First and foremost, we want to develop a process where the foundation is really built on community values and inputs,” Bruno said.
The ASTAR team is also considering resource development projects, identifying situations where there may be synergies between these projects and the projects identified by communities, Bruno said.
At this point, more than 250 potential projects have been identified and mapped, and the process of prioritizing the projects is beginning, he said.
The program also involves detailed computer-based terrain mapping. And, to assess the availability of construction materials, the ASTAR team has been locating and evaluating available data, including information about gravel sources, data from lake surveys and data from remote sensing surveys. The team is identifying data gaps with a view to potentially filling those gaps, particularly in areas where there are high priority projects.
Planning and analysis toolAnd the program is developing a computer database that can capture all the results of the planning efforts, including the mapping and the list of potential community and resource development projects. The database will become a tool to support data analysis and hence enable informed decisions over future infrastructure projects.
The final round of the program will involve taking the analysis tool and data to the communities, for verification. The tool will enable project evaluation, both from the perspective of an individual community, and on a more regional basis.
DGGS data collectionSteve Masterman, director of DNR’s Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, told the committee that DGGS has been working with the federal Bureau of Land Management to establish a sand and gravel inventory for parts of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. DGGS has been compiling an inventory of known sand and gravel resources and working with a contractor to identify and map surface features. A DGGS team plans to conduct fieldwork this summer, to verify what the features are and how they relate to sand and gravel resources. The team is mapping data from old seismic shot hole samples, noting where sand and gravel has been located in the subsurface. This summer’s fieldwork will involve drilling at locations where there appears to be good potential for finding more of these resources.
The resulting data will be fed into the ASTAR database, as well as being made available to the public through the regular DGGS publication process, Masterman said.
Finishing the funded program will involve completing the cumulative benefits analysis of the potential infrastructure projects and completing the database of information on construction resources. To date $1.4 million of the program’s $7.3 million budget has been spent, with a further $5.5 million committed to continuing program activities, Bruno said. He said that he anticipates the program being completed around June of next year.
North Slope Borough perspectiveGordon Brower, director of planning and community services for the North Slope Borough, commented on the value that the borough sees in the ASTAR program. In general, there is a lack of connectivity between North Slope villages, and the costs of goods and services are very high, he said. A lack of support infrastructure limits opportunities for people in the region.
Moreover, projects of all types on the North Slope, not just oil and gas projects, require support infrastructure, Brower said. For example, in the past the lack of infrastructure has stymied efforts to develop the large quantities of high-quality, metallurgical coal known to exist in the region, he said. A major oil discovery at Smith Bay on the Beaufort Sea coast is isolated by a lack of transportation infrastructure.
By working together on the infrastructure issues, it will be possible to accomplish many things, Brower suggested.