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Plan Finalized for Additional Development, Wildlife Protections in 23 Million Acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska

By Mary Kauffman

February 24, 2013
Sunday AM

(SitNews) - As part of President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy to continue to expand domestic energy production, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar on Thursday signed the Record of Decision (ROD) for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the final action allows for the development of 72 percent of the estimated economically recoverable oil in the nearly 23-million-acre Reserve, while protecting the vital subsistence resources of Alaska Natives and the habitat of world-class wildlife populations.

The NPR-A is expected to hold 895 million barrels of technically recoverable oil and 52.8 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas.

jpg Plan for Additional Development, Wildlife Protections in 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska Finalized

The location of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is the light green area.

“The balanced approach under this plan is the result of extensive local input and will help guide the responsible production and transport of the substantial oil and gas resources in and around the Reserve,” said Salazar. “This comprehensive plan will allow us to continue to expand our leasing in the NPR-A, as has happened over the last three years, while protecting the outstanding and unique resources that are critically important to the culture and subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Natives and our nation’s conservation heritage.”

In a prepared statement addressing the plan, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said, “I continue to have the same reservations that I had before about the negative impact this plan will have on our national energy security and Alaska’s economy. I don’t support this plan and I don’t agree that a land management plan focused on conservation was appropriate for a petroleum reserve.

“Even the administration concedes the need to build a pipeline to ensure that the vast oil and gas resources in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas can reach the trans-Alaska oil pipeline system, but the language included in this plan fails to provide the certainty necessary to make sure such a pipeline can actually be built without being held up by endless environmental litigation," said Murkowski.

Murkowski said, “Despite the assurances of the administration, this plan puts in place roadblocks to the construction of an economically feasible pipeline project. The unintended consequences of this decision could have broad implications for our economy and energy security.”

Murkowski is the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee, the authorizing and appropriating committees with jurisdiction over the Interior Department.

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich (D- AK), while pleased with the clear confirmation to allow pipeline construction to safely and economically carry offshore oil and gas from the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, Begich remained disappointed with the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) final decision on a development plan for the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A), citing dismissal of local comments on resource development.

“Despite their claims, it is clear the Interior Department yet again has made a decision about Alaska land use that ignores what Alaskans want,” Begich said.  “I appreciate the strong and clear language on future pipeline routes through the NPR-A to carry Beaufort and Chukchi oil.  But I am left wondering what good a working group will do if they haven’t been doing a good job of listening so far?  As Elvis Presley said, we need ‘a little less conversation and a little more action’.”

Begich said that although the plan explicitly allows for the construction of a pipeline and recognizes the importance of working with stakeholders, the plan removes from potential future leasing, some of the most promising and oil prone areas in the eastern part of the reserve, near existing infrastructure.

“When a local community comes together on land use decisions that affect their daily lives and their future, Washington needs to listen,” said Begich.  “I’m far from convinced they have listened so far and the jury is still out on whether they will.  No one disputes the importance of Teshekpuk Lake to waterfowl and caribou, but I think we should listen most closely to those who live there and depend on both these critical subsistence resources as well as the economic opportunity resource development can bring.”

Begich has continuously pressed the Obama administration to improve the working relationship between the Department of Interior and North Slope residents and stakeholders.  Specifically, Begich has pushed the Department of Interior to heed requests from the North Slope community of Nuiqsut, located inside the NPR-A boundary and closest to existing development, as well as Alaska producers in removing some of the development restrictions in the more oil-prone eastern part of the reserve, particularly to the south of Teshekpuk Lake.  

In December, the village of Nuiqsut sent a joint statement from the city government, village corporation and tribal government asking for more area south of Teshekpuk Lake to be available for leasing.  These requests were largely ignored in Thursday’s decision said Begich.

Joshua Reichert, an executive vice president at The Pew Charitable Trusts who leads the organization’s environmental work said in a prepared statement, "This decision is the Obama Administration’s crowning land conservation accomplishment to date. After years of thoughtful review, consideration of scientific studies and extensive public input, the department has achieved the first comprehensive management blueprint for this globally significant area. This balanced plan protects some of America’s greatest treasures in the Arctic while allowing for measured resource development."

Reichert said, “The U.S. government’s actions preserve core calving and migration areas for two of the state’s largest caribou herds, maintaining critical subsistence resources for more than 40 communities in northern and western Alaska. This plan fulfills the congressional intent for the reserve by protecting vital wildlife, waterfowl, and fish habitat; safeguarding subsistence opportunities; and allowing for extraction of the majority of the area’s oil. It is a model for sustainably managing our Arctic resources, both onshore and off.”

According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Record of Decision addresses two key issues that Secretary Salazar identified for special attention when he released the final Environmental Impact Statement for the NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan. First, the ROD provides explicit confirmation that potential pipelines carrying oil or gas from operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas can be constructed through the NPR-A. Second, following additional consultations with North Slope communities, the Record of Decision requires that BLM establish an “NPR-A Working Group” that will include representatives of North Slope tribal entities, Native corporations and local governments.

The NPR-A Working Group will provide input on the full range of management issues and possible future development in the NPR-A, including pipelines and related oil and gas infrastructure development. The Working Group also will be a forum to gather additional scientific information and traditional knowledge about wildlife populations and needs, and it can inform potential adjustments to the boundaries of special areas including, for example, potential future adjustments to the southernmost boundary of the Teshekpuk Lake special area. The Plan itself is consistent with the Congressional intent that oil and gas leases be offered in the NPR-A while providing significant protections for the subsistence resources of Alaska Native residents of the area and the Reserve’s extensive wildlife and recreational values.

The U.S. Department of the Interior said after receiving more than 400,000 public comments and following two days of meetings and visits with North Slope leaders in August 2012, Salazar announced the Preferred Alternative, which was adopted by the ROD that he signed today. The ROD includes the creation of the Peard Bay Special Area and enlarges the Teshekpuk Lake and Utukok River Uplands Special Areas, expanding Special Areas in the NPR-A from 8.3 million acres to 13.35 million acres.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has estimated that the NPR-A lands made available for development under this plan contain nearly three-fourths of NPR-A’s estimated economically recoverable oil and over half of the estimated economically recoverable gas. The plan will allow for access to oil and gas resources on 11.8 million acres, which are estimated to hold 549 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of economically recoverable natural gas.

Following President Obama’s directive in May 2011 that annual oil and gas lease sales be conducted in the NPR-A, BLM offered three million acres in December 2011. That sale generated 17 winning bids covering more than 120,000 acres. Another lease sale on November 7, 2012, offered 4.5 million acres and received 14 winning bids on 160,088 total acres. There are now 191 authorized oil and gas leases in the NPR-A, encompassing 1.5 million acres. To date, only exploratory drilling has occurred, but in 2011, with the assistance of the President’s Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska, the Corps of Engineers issued permits to ConocoPhillips that will allow for the first commercial oil and gas production in the Reserve.

The Record of Decision makes all lands along the Chukchi Sea coast, most of the lands along the Beaufort Sea coast, and other lands available for application for a wide range of route options for pipelines and other infrastructure that would support offshore development. The decision concurrently protects a wide range of resources, including critical areas for sensitive bird populations from all seven continents and for the roughly 400,000 caribou found in the Teshekpuk Lake and Western Arctic Caribou Herds.

Subsistence users in more than 40 villages in northwest Alaska rely on these caribou herds.

The plan, which is detailed in the Final Integrated Activity Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final IAP/EIS) for the NPR-A, is the first management plan that covers the entire Reserve, including 9.2 million acres in the southwest area. Previous plans covered the northeast and northwest planning areas only.

The Final IAP/EIS for the NPR-A, released in December 2012, was developed through extensive consultations that considered the viewpoints of Alaskans who live in the region, tribal governments, the State of Alaska, industry, environmental organizations and other stakeholders and federal partners. The BLM hosted seven public meetings and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act subsistence hearings in North Slope villages. The BLM also held meetings in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Also, following release of the Final IAP/EIS, the BLM conducted meetings in communities on the North Slope to receive recommendations on future ongoing outreach efforts with communities located within or near the NPR-A.

By law, the BLM administers the NPR-A for the purposes of oil and gas leasing along with protection of areas containing significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife or historical or scenic value. The Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976 as amended (which transferred the Reserve from the Navy to the Department of the Interior) mandates maximum protection of such areas while conducting an expeditious program of oil and gas leasing.

The NPR-A ROD and related documents are available online at A Notice of Availability of the ROD will also be published in the Federal Register.


Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews

Source of News: 

United States Department of Interior

Office of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski

Office of U.S. Sen. Mark Begich

The Pew Charitable Trusts

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