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March 11, 2013
O&G plan issued for Alaska reserve

For the state of Alaska, the amount of land the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has made available for oil and gas (O&G) development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) appears to be less meaningful than the amount of land where development will be prohibited. 

In its most recent action, the BLM issued its record of decision (ROD) for domestic energy production on the 22.8 million-acre NPR-A.  Under the ROD, access to O&G reserves will be allowed on 11.8 million acres, which, according to the BLM, hold an estimated 549 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of economically recoverable natural gas.  According to the BLM, the ROD is the result of “extensive consultations” with representatives of over 40 villages of subsistence users in the northern NPR-A, industry, environmental groups, and other federal agencies. 

State exits discussions

Alaska was also involved in discussions but dropped out as a participating agency in September 2012.  At that time, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell said the BLM had refused to take the views of his administration into consideration when it decided to bar development on millions of  acres of the NPR-A without providing notice to the state.  Alaska has advocated full development of O&G reserves in the NPR-A with “reasonable mitigation measures,” but charged that its recommendations were not included in BLM’s selected alternative for development.

Access for pipelines

Highlights of the ROD include:

  • Making portions of the NPR-A available for pipelines and other infrastructure necessary for owners of offshore leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to bring O&G across the NPR-A to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
  • Prohibiting most new nonsubsistence permanent infrastructure on approximately 8.4 million acres of the 11 million acres that would not be available for O&G leasing.
  • Establishing the NPR-A Working Group that will include representatives of North Slope tribal entities, Native corporations, and local governments.  The intent of the Working Group is to ensure that BLM land managers engage in a continuing dialogue with North Slope residents, understand their economic, subsistence, and wider social interests in activities in the NPR-A, and gather scientific and traditional ecological knowledge related to key issues that arise during implementation of the plan and as the BLM considers proposed activities in the NPR-A. 

Special areas

The ROD significantly increases the acreage on which O&G development will not be allowed, including expanding the Teshekuk Lake Special Area from 1.75 million acres to 3.65 million acres.  Governor Parnell told the BLM that this area includes “some of the most prospective” in the NPR-A.  But the BLM believes critical protections are necessary for areas critical to numerous subsistence species, including:

  • Calving and insect relief areas for caribou herds
  • Riverine, lake, and coastal fish habitat
  • Nesting and breeding areas for tens of thousands of birds; and
  • Bays, inlets, and coastlines important for marine mammals.

Protections are also provided for coastal waters and river routes critical for North Slope residents to access hunting, fishing, berry picking, and trapping grounds.

The BLM states that because of the “dynamic nature of public land resources,” the ROD will remain in place until the BLM determines that it is appropriate to adopt a different approach to management of the reserve.

Currently, there are 191 authorized O&G leases in the NPR-A.  To date, only exploratory drilling has occurred, but in 2011, the Army Corps of Engineers issued permits to ConocoPhillips to allow the first commercial O&G production in the reserve.

Click here for BLM’s final ROD for the NPR-A.

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