Alaska’s delegation scolds Salazar over NPR-A withdrawals


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Alaska’s Congressional delegation sent a sternly-worded letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Aug. 22 protesting the Interior Department’s selection of a preferred management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska that would put about half the 23-million-acre reserve into special conservation areas.

“The selection of Alternative B-2 in the National Petroleum Reserve Environmental Impact Statement represents the largest wholesale land withdrawal and blocking of access to an energy resource in decades,” the letter stated.

Alaska Sens. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, Mark Begich, a Democrat, and the state’s one congressman, Republican Rep. Don Young, signed the letter.

In a related development, Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow, the largest private landowners on the North Slope, weighed in with additional criticisms of Salazar’s plan.

“The Department of the Interior is locking up the most prospective areas for increased domestic energy supply, while proposing lease sales on tracts of land with low oil potential,” ASRC president Rex Rock said in a statement.

Richard Glenn, ASRC’s vice president for lands and natural resources, said, “The alternative preferred by Secretary Salazar would restrict areas that have already been leased, where commercial potential has already been discovered.

“In addition, Salazar’s choice would lock up large swaths of land with little or no additional benefit to wildlife resources found there.”

The plan unveiled by Salazar in Anchorage on Aug. 13 creates special protected areas along the western coast of NPR-A, the northern coast outside of Native-owned lands and the eastern border of the reserve along the Colville River.

This has created worries that not only will half the reserve be off-limits for leasing, but that it would be difficult for companies to secure corridors to build pipelines.

“Given the significant new acreage put into Special and Deferral Areas in the NPR-A we do not see how the Department of the Interior could meet the stated purpose and need of the land management plan which includes the orderly development of the petroleum resources and construction of ‘necessary infrastructure, primarily pipelines and roads, to bring oil and gas resources from the Chukchi Sea to the Trans Alaska Pipeline System,” the letter from the delegation stated.

However, U.S. Bureau of Land Management officials in Anchorage said the preferred alternative would allow a pipeline to come ashore and cross any of the protected lands, although there may be stipulations to provide additional protections.

“There is not an inch of shoreline that a pipeline would not be able to come across,” including the Colville River protected corridor, said Jim Ducker, BLM’s coordinator for the NPR-A management plan.

Ducker said there is confusion because the Alternative B in the environmental impact statement, or EIS, would indeed have blocked access from the north, although access from the west would be allowed. In the modified Alternative B-2 the land designations have changes do that there would be no impediment, although special conditions would apply, he said.

Murkowski, Begich and Young are still suspicious, however, said Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon.

“The delegation sees this as creation of de facto wilderness, where we have a ‘no more wilderness’ guarantee in the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act,” Dillon said.

ANILCA is the 1980 Alaska lands act that established new parks, refuges and wilderness areas in Alaska.

“This is a violation of that,” Dillon said.

Murkowski has previously voiced concern that if restrictions on a pipeline corridor are too costly it would encourage Shell and other companies exploring the Chukchi Sea to pursue at-sea loading in ice-strengthened tankers.

An additional concern of the delegation, the letter said, is that the new preferred alternative places two new production drill sites in NPR-A, CD-6 and CD-7, within protected areas. These are discoveries in the northeast NPR-A made by ConocoPhillips and Anadarko Petroleum that are not yet developed. They would be connected by a pipeline and road to the Alpine oil field just east of the Colville River, which is on state-owned lands.

 

Tim Bradner can be reached at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

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