Delegation slams NPR-A plan; greens pleased
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Aug. 13 he has chosen a preferred alternative for a land management plan for the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve, although details of the plan remain sketchy.
The newly-proposed “Alternative B-2” management plan would open 11 million acres of the reserve to oil and gas leasing but would also place 13 million acres in special conservation areas, Salazar said.
Details of the new alternative aren’t yet available, but state of Alaska officials aren’t happy about it.
“We’re still looking at it but off the cuff we have significant concerns about what they are trying to lock up,” state Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan said. “The petroleum reserve is supposed to be for oil and gas.”
An overriding concern, Sullivan said, is that the state wasn’t given any advance notice of the new alternative.
“We are not brought in as a participating entity. It seems like they consult more with the Center for Biological Diversity (an environmental group) than they do with the legally-elected state government,” Sullivan said.
What reinforced Sullivan’s belief is that the Wilderness Society and National Audubon Society issued press releases minutes after the Department of the Interior announcement, an indication that the groups were informed in advance of the action.
A major concern in the pending NPR-A plan is whether a pipeline crossing would be allowed across NPR-A to bring any oil discovered in the Chukchi Sea to the Trans Alaska Pipeline System.
In his press conference, Salazar said a pipeline corridor would be allowed although the specifics of a route must await an application from industry. A pipeline crossing of a special use area or other industry will be subject to special stipulations to protect the uses of the special areas, the Secretary said.
“Our plan will not foreclose a pipeline, but when one is proposed it will have to go through the full regulatory process including an environmental impact statement,” the Secretary said.
The Interior Department has been considering several alternatives for managing the reserve, one an Alternative A continues the status quo; a second, more environmentally restrictive Alternative B that establishes large special conservation areas; an Alternative C that is less restrictive, and an Alternative D that essentially opens all of the reserve to oil and gas development.
Until Monday the department had not selected a preferred alternative. The new B-2 plan is now the preferred one, Salazar said. It combines elements of the other plans, but Salazar did not provide details Aug. 13 in Anchorage.
The preferred alternative will now be incorporated into a final environmental impact statement for the NPR-A. The EIS is expected to be finalized in November and the Record of Decision, the final step, in December, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bud Mike Pool said at the briefing.
“In the next few weeks we will be meeting with the state of Alaska, the North Slope Borough and other concerned Alaska stakeholders to go through the details,” Salazar said.
U.S. Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Ruth McCord said the agency is still working out details of the preferred alternative, but a lot of information is provided on the BLM Alaska website.
Alaska’s congressional delegation was quick to criticize the plan.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski said: “The administration has picked the most restrictive management plan possible. The environmentally-sensitive Teshepuk Lake area was already under a 10-year deferral for additional study, but this (new) alternative goes vastly beyond that, putting half the petroleum reserve off limits. The decision denies U.S. taxpayers both revenue and jobs at a time when our nation faces record debt and unemployment,” Murkowski said in a statement.
In his statement, Rep. Don Young said: “While this administration is touting today’s announcement, it’s crucially important for us to see the details, especially since it appears this is simply a minor revision of an older plan that places many areas off limits while also designating new areas as so called ‘Wild and Scenic Rivers.’ This is unacceptable and as long as I’m in Washington, D.C., these recommendations will never see the light of day.”
Democratic Sen. Mark Begich was less harsh than his Republican colleagues, but said, “I am very concerned about this choice by the Department of the Interior. The new preferred alternative still seems to close off several options for building a pipeline across the NPR-A.”
Begich continued, “We’ve known since the beginning that a pipeline across the NPR-A is a critical piece of the puzzle for successful Arctic development. I was pleased by Secretary Salazar’s statement that the United States cannot be left behind in the Arctic. However, today’s decision creates many more questions than answers about how we are going to get billions of barrels of oil from the Chukchi Sea into TAPS.”
Conservation groups praised the alternative, however.
“If adopted, the preferred management strategy would protect the calving grounds of the Teshepuk Lake and Western Arctic caribou herds,” the Wilderness Society said in a statement issued Aug. 13. “Essential nesting habitat for thousands of shorebirds, molting habitat for geese, and coastlines used for walrus haul-outs and polar bear dens would not be developed under this plan.”
The Audubon Society voiced similar sentiments.
“The Secretary’s plan shows that Americans can protect nature even on lands designated for energy production. It would be a great victory for birds, wildlife and common sense,” Audubon president David Yarnold said in the statement.
Tim Bradner can be reached at email@example.com.