Parnell withdraws state cooperation in NPR-A land planning

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has withdrawn the state as a “cooperating agency” with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska issues.

The governor also asked Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to redo the department’s long-range land management plan for the NPR-A. Parnell is unhappy that Interior has classified about half of the 23-million-acre petroleum reserve off-limits to drilling without giving prior notice to the state or any other cooperating agency.

Sharon Leighow, the governor’s press secretary, said withdrawing the state as a cooperating agency is largely a symbolic move.

“It’s more of a statement. It won’t stop the process of adopting the management plan. It’s our way of saying that despite our best efforts we’re being ignored. We still plan to file protests when the final plan is adopted,” Leighow said.

BLM officials agreed.

“Being a cooperating agency allows the state to be at the table, but consensus isn’t required among cooperating agencies and as lead agency we wind up making the final decision,” said Serena Sweet, BLM’s planning supervisor for NPR-A.

In a Sept. 12 statement, Parnell said, “”Your recent surprise announcement of a preferred alternative effectively withdrawing millions of acres in NPR-A (an area designated by Congress for oil and gas development to meet the energy needs of the nation), and the complete failure of the Department of the Interior to take into account the State’s comments as a cooperating agency, shows a complete lack of respect for the views of the State.”

Parnell said the state had provided comments supporting full development of oil and gas resources in the NPR-A with reasonable mitigation measures. The State’s recommendations were not included in the selected alternative.

Parnell called Interior’s action a “stealth” approach because it prevented the state or other cooperating agencies from, “suggesting and discussing other alternatives as a preferred alternative or ways to mitigate impacts in areas set aside from development,” Parnell said in a letter to Salazar sent Sept. 12.

President Barack Obama and Secretary Salazar have made expanding responsible oil and gas production here at home a clear priority. Oil production is higher right now than any time in 8 years and natural gas production at its highest level ever. However, the growth has been on private lands while federal permits are down.

BLM officials defended Salazar’s action in a Sept. 14 statement.

“The preferred alternative for the NPR-A was developed by the Secretary after analyzing more than 400,000 comments from the public,” agency spokeswoman Ruth McCord said. “The selected alternative would make 72 percent of the projected oil resources in the NPR-A available while also making sure that Alaska’s globally significant wildlife populations and the subsistence rights of Alaska Natives are protected. This is textbook smart development and this kind of balancing is required by law.

“Further, nearly 12 million acres of land are made available through the plan. The preferred alternative also makes certain that pipelines carrying oil and gas from operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas will be allowable through a broad swath of public land, including two areas identified for special management.”

The preferred alternative is one of several considered in Interior in development of a long-range comprehensive land management plan for the reserve. Several alternatives were spelled out in the draft management plan and also a draft environmental impact statement that is also being done.

Interior had not picked a preferred alternative in the drafts but recently announced a new plan, the “B-2 alternative” that combined elements in the plans that were published.

BLM officials in Alaska said a key feature of the preferred alternative is that it would permit access and facilities to conservation lands as long as the uses were not inconsistent with the purpose of the conservation designation.

State and industry leaders are concerned about large sections of coastline in northern and northwest parts of the reserve placed in proposed conservation areas as well as the Colville River along the eastern boundary of NPR-A.

11/11/2016 - 12:51pm