Second CP project advances as subsistence concerns unsettled

Alaska officials within the Bureau of Land Management are generally on board with ConocoPhillips’ plan for the Greater Mooses Tooth-2 project, but the best ways to minimize the $1 billion-plus oil development’s impacts to subsistence activities are still unsettled.

BLM selected ConocoPhillips’ proposal as its preferred option for developing the oil prospect just inside the eastern boundary of the federal National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the project’s final supplemental environmental impact statement released Aug. 30.

The $1.5 billion GMT-2 project is expected to produce upwards of 30,000 barrels oil per day at its peak, with construction commencing this coming winter and startup scheduled for late 2021 barring unforeseen delays, according to ConocoPhillips representatives. Its near mirror-image predecessor project, GMT-1, is expected to come online late this year with a similar peak production rate.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young lauded the preliminary decision to move towards additional development in the NPR-A through statements in a BLM news release. Assistant Interior Secretary and former Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash said GMT-2 is proof the Trump administration is following through on its commitment to make Alaska a central player in increased domestic energy production.

“Oil and gas development in the NPR-A is important to meeting our nation’s energy needs and this analysis provides a responsible path forward in balance with resource protections,” Balash said in a formal statement. “And, throughout the process we are proud of our efforts of involving the people most affected by development activities on the North Slope of Alaska.”

ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said via email that the company is reviewing the final EIS and as a result is unable to comment on it at this time. Presuming an acceptable record of decision — issued at least 30 days after the final EIS is published in the Federal Register — ConocoPhillips executives could make a funding decision on GMT-2 later this year, according to Lowman.

The final supplemental EIS for GMT-2 is a follow-up from one done in 2004 when the project was first proposed as a satellite to the company’s large Alpine field on state acreage just to the east of the NPR-A.

The footprint of ConocoPhillips’ updated plan for GMT-2 is larger than what it got approval for in 2004, with an oil pipeline paralleling an 8.2-mile access road and a 14-acre drill pad capable of holding up to 48 wells, according to the proposal submitted to BLM.

The road and pipeline would connect the project to GMT-1, which is about eight miles to the northeast.

Alternative development options considered in the EIS include a longer road and pipeline to avoid the Fish Creek and Tinmiaqsiugvik River drainages with the intent to keep traffic and oil farther away from the water bodies and hopefully reduce the impacts of a major spill if one were to occur.

Another option contemplated a 5,000-foot airstrip with a 47-acre footprint to eliminate the need for a gravel road. With no year-round surface connection, the third alternative would also require a larger 19-acre gravel drill pad to and an 18-acre camp pad to accommodate workers unable to leave each day.

The oil pipeline in that scenario would follow the company’s desired route.

Subsistence impacts

While some of Alaska’s political leaders praised BLM’s conclusions in the review document, the agency also acknowledged in the EIS that “development of the GMT-2 project may significantly restrict subsistence activities for the village of Nuiqsut, and the cumulative effects of GMT-2 and other development on the North Slope may significantly restrict subsistence activities for the villages of Nuiqsut, Anaktuvuk Pass, Atqasuk and Utqiagvik.”

To that end, Native village of Nuiqsut President Margaret Pardue wrote in comments to BLM on May 17 asking the agency to stop permitting on GMT-2 for at least five years after GMT-1 is complete.

Nuiqsut — a village of about 400 people roughly 15 miles from the proposed GMT-2 site and closer to GMT-1 and other ConocoPhillips developments in the area — has been “inundated with development proposals and planning exercises,” according to Pardue.

She contends the full effects of the Alpine field satellite projects have not been fully felt or understood by Nuiqsut residents and development should be slowed until those impacts can be quantified.

Pardue noted that other federal agencies are evaluating permit applications for the very large Nanushuk oil development just north of the village and the offshore Liberty project being done by Hilcorp Energy, which is in an area Nuiqsut residents use for whale hunts.

Also, on Aug. 7 BLM issued a notice that ConocoPhillips had submitted development plans for its Willow oil prospect northwest of the village in the NPR-A, which would be a major, $4 billion-plus project with multiple drilling pads and its own oil processing facility.

“(The Native village of Nuiqsut) strives to be an active and engaged entity in these review processes, but the amount of planning currently underway in the region presents serious capacity challenges in our ability to have constructive and meaningful involvement,” Pardue wrote. “By delaying GMT-2, the true impacts of development will be more understood and NVN will have greater time to consider the risks of development and rigorously engage in this proposed project.”

Last winter ConocoPhillips adhered to a lengthy list of mitigation measures aimed at reducing noise, light and air pollutants from an exploratory drill site about three miles from Nuiqsut at the behest of Kuukpik Corp., the community’s Native village corporation.

That drilling went well and the mitigation efforts were successful by all accounts, but how those could translate into a permanent development is unclear.

Kuukpik also has in-holdings within the NPR-A that would be crossed by the GMT-2 road-pipeline corridor.

Pardue insisted in her letter that GMT-2 will push wildlife resources such as caribou and wolverines away from the community, forcing hunters to travel farther to reach them and putting the villages food security at risk.

“With active exploratory drilling to the east, west, and south, our community is on the verge of being surrounded by oil and gas development. BLM has taken no actions to meaningfully protect subsistence resources and our remaining subsistence use areas from the impacts of oil development within the region,” Pardue wrote.

She continued to assert that human health impacts, particularly air quality, were not adequately addressed in the draft EIS, which was published in March. GMT-2 is the continuation of a lack of government response to the air quality impacts of ongoing oil development, according to Pardue.

She added that the potential impacts of development on residents’ mental health and nutrition need comprehensive evaluation as well.

Arctic Slope Regional Corp., the regional Native corporation for North Slope communities, supported ConocoPhillips’ development plan in its own May EIS comment letter.

However, ASRC Development Vice President Teresa Imm wrote that company leaders believe the potential impacts of GMT-2 to locals’ subsistence activities need to be fully evaluated before the project is approved.

BLM will evaluate and potentially apply new mitigation measures as stipulations in its record of decision, which is likely to be published this fall, according to the EIS document.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

09/05/2018 - 12:15pm