BLM seeks input on opening entire NPR-A to leasing

  • The 1,421-foot-long Nigliq Channel Bridge was built to reach the CD-5 drillsite owned by ConocoPhillips in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. CD-5 was the first oil production from lands within the NPR-A in 2015, and the company announced a major discovery within the reserve earlier this year. Now the Bureau of Land Management is seeking input on whether to open the entirety of NPR-A to oil leasing. (Photo/Courtesy/PND Engineers Inc.)

The Bureau of Land Management wants to know if any more of the nearly 23 million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska should be open to development of its namesake resource.

The Interior Department agency that oversees the NPR-A on the western North Slope is soliciting interest in the roughly 11 million acres former President Barack Obama’s administration made off limits to oil and gas leasing in 2013, according to an Aug. 7 press release from BLM’s Anchorage office.

“Offering all tracts for nomination is in response to (Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s) order and will jump-start Alaskan energy production in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska,” acting Assistant Interior Secretary for Lands and Mineral Management Katharine MacGregor said in a formal statement.

Zinke signed a secretarial order May 31 to initiate possible revisions to the 2013 NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan and update the oil and gas resource estimates for the NPR-A and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association’s annual conference in Anchorage.

MacGregor further said in her statement that the information gained from the solicitation will aid the department’s review of the current NPR-A land management policies “while protecting surface resources.”

“Oil and gas lease sales help strengthen American energy independence, promote domestic energy production and support local job growth,” she said.

MacGregor was appointed by Zinke in April to be the deputy assistant secretary for land and mineral management. She is in the acting assistant secretary position as the department awaits Senate confirmation of former Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash, who Zinke appointed to the post in July.

BLM regularly asks for nominations on its annual fall NPR-A lease sales and the recent solicitation includes the 900 oil and gas tracts over the 10.3 million acres of the reserve that are open to leasing.

Currently, companies hold 189 leases covering 1.37 million acres in the NPR-A, according to BLM.

Industry interest in the NPR-A leases has waxed and waned over the years as federal land management policies have shifted and evidence of available oil and gas resources has evolved.

The fact that only the far eastern fringe of the NPR-A has any oil and gas infrastructure has also made industry movement into the vast area very incremental.

ConocoPhillips, in partnership with ARCO, is the only company to push entitrely into the federal area with its mid-sized Greater Moose’s Tooth oil projects currently under development and projected to total 60,000 barrels per day if both come online.

The 2013 NPR-A land management plan prohibits leasing in much of the northeast part of the reserve to protect the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd and waterfowl that breed in the area.

State Department of Natural Resource Commissioner Andy Mack has said the state is also interested in protecting the Teshekpuk caribou — an important subsistence resource for residents of nearby villages — but that can be done while also strategically opening certain areas to leasing that are currently off limits.

The December 2016 NPR-A lease sale drew a large amount of interest — again, primarily from ConocoPhillips — garnering $18 million in high bids on 613,000 acres mostly on its eastern edge.

ConocoPhillips followed up its bidding activity with the January announcement of its Willow oil discovery in the eastern NPR-A, which the company estimates could hold 300 million barrels of recoverable oil with peak production of up to 100,000 barrels per day possible.

Additionally, small independent Caelus Energy’s potentially massive Smith Bay oil find is in near shore state waters adjacent to northeast NPR-A lands currently off limits to leasing. Caelus estimates the prospect contains more than 6 billion barrels of oil in place.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Updated: 
08/09/2017 - 12:11pm

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