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Vol. 16, No. 50 Week of December 11, 2011
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

Agencies agree on bridge; Corps of Engineers decision this year

A roadblock to development of ConocoPhillips’ CD-5 drill site in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska has been removed.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, which had opposed the company’s plan to put the crude oil pipeline from CD-5 to the company’s Alpine production facilities on a bridge to be built across the Nigliq Channel of the Colville River, have reached “an agreement in principle” with the company on the proposal.

In a Dec. 5 announcement the U.S. Department of the Interior said the agreement fulfills a request from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that the agencies evaluate environmental impacts associated with the revised project.

Interior said the agreement in principle confirms that construction of a pipeline and bridge over the Nigliq Channel is acceptable to Fish and Wildlife and EPA “so long as the permit application includes conditions that reflect agreements reached” among ConocoPhillips, Fish and Wildlife and EPA.

“The conditions include engineering changes and substantial mitigation proposed by the company based on consultations with the resource agencies,” Interior said.

ConocoPhillips has also agreed to allow other companies that develop leases in NPR-A to use the same crossing, “rather than seek approval for additional channel crossings in the area. This approach will reduce the environmental impacts” associated with future developments west of the Colville River, Interior said.

Interior said the corps is expected to carry out remaining steps associated with the permit review in the coming weeks.

Pat Richardson, spokeswoman for the corps’ Alaska District, told Petroleum News in an email that the corps’ goal “is to have a decision this month.” She said the corps received additional information from ConocoPhillips as late as Thanksgiving week and that information must be analyzed.

“ConocoPhillips sees this as a positive step in the process of granting the Section 404 permit for the CD5 project,” ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said in a Dec. 5 email. “We have not yet seen the permit nor its conditions, but we are encouraged by today’s announcement.”

Bridge vs. HDD

The current permitting process came to a standstill in February 2010 when the corps denied ConocoPhillips Alaska permits to develop the CD-5 project, citing overriding national interests, specifically concerns about “further impacts to the aquatic resources” in the Colville River Delta, which lies just east of NPR-A.

The preferred alternative in the 2004 environmental impact statement for Alpine satellite development included a bridge and a road.

After facing local opposition over the location of the Nigliq Channel bridge in an earlier proposal, ConocoPhillips had reached resolution on local concerns about the project with changes in bridge location and an agreement to fund a road to connect the nearby community of Nuiqsut to the project’s road system, and had local support for the project.

The corps said it had determined that the pipeline should be buried under the Nigliq Channel using horizontal directional drilling, but noted that would require new permit applications.

EPA and Fish & Wildlife both opposed granting the permits.

EPA told the corps it had determined that the Colville River Delta is an aquatic resource of national importance, triggering action under a 1992 memorandum of understanding between EPA and the Department of the Army. Fish & Wildlife also told the corps it had found the delta to be an aquatic resource of national importance, and also cited a memorandum of understanding with the corps.

The CD-5 drilling pad, on the other side of the Nigliq Channel from the Alpine facilities, is not in the Colville River Delta, but 2.5 miles of the road back to Alpine and the bridges (the Nigliq Channel crossing and two smaller bridges) would be.

State opposed HDD

The State of Alaska opposed horizontal directional drilling under the Nigliq Channel, and has backed ConocoPhillips’ bridge and road proposal.

“We believe the state’s input and advocacy helped in achieving this positive outcome, and we will continue to monitor this project through the permitting process,” Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said in a statement following Interior’s announcement.

The governor noted that the state has demonstrated in reports that the corps’ preferred alternative, buried pipelines under the Nigliq Channel, was not the least environmentally damaging alternative.

“This agreement is long overdue, but no less welcomed,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, in a Dec. 5 statement. She said she expects the corps to now move quickly to approve the proposed bridge “and allow access to the oil and natural gas reserves within the National Petroleum Reserve.”

The senator said that she has “had numerous disagreements with the administration on Alaska issues, but I appreciate the involvement of the White House and the Interior Department in removing this particular roadblock to improving our nation’s energy security.

Murkowski noted, as she has in the past, that EPA, “without public notice or process, designated the Colville River as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance (ARNI).”

Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, said he welcomed the announcement, but “the fact of the matter is that this should have happened sooner.” He noted the importance of the CD-5 project not only for Alaska jobs, “but also because it will put this nation on a path towards becoming energy independent.”

“This is a great way to ring in the holiday season at a time when Alaska’s oil and gas industry needs to hear some good news on the development front,” said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska,

“It’s been a long and sometimes frustrating process to get to this decision,” Begich said. “I commend ConocoPhillips and the Interior Department for sticking with it.”

—Kristen Nelson

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