American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program


AGENCY ACTION ALERT

Comment Period for National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska

(Posted: August 21, 1998; Action Completed: September 8, 1998

This update was originally sent out as an e-mail message to AGI's member societies. The comment period closed on September 8th. For more on NPR-A, see the associated legislative update on this web site.

On August 6th, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt announced the Clinton Administration's plan to open the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska (NPR-A) for exploration. The Minerals Management Service estimates that the northeast corner contains a mean of 3.1 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and 9.9 trillion cubic feet of gas. Babbitt's announcement was accompanied by release of the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) final report on its recommendations for oil and gas drilling in NPR-A. The public comment period on the final report lasts until September 8th, and geoscientists interested in this issue are encouraged to provide their input. Comments can be submitted via the web at http://aurora.ak.blm.gov/npra, by e-mail to Jim Ducker jducker@ak.blm.org, or by mail to: NPR-A Planning Team; Bureau of Land Management; Alaska State Office (930); 222 W. 7th Avenue #13; Anchorage AK 99513. The American Geological Institute has not taken a position on this issue.

The release of the BLM report, officially the Final Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement, follows an 18-month planning process involving a consortium of federal, state, and local agencies. In the report, BLM recommends that 4 million acres (87 percent) of the 4.6 million-acre northeast quadrant of NPR-A will be available for leasing. Development in 20 percent of that area will be limited by prohibiting oil and gas surface pipelines but can be accessed by directional drilling. The areas where leasing is prohibited or restricted fall mainly around the Teshekpuk Lake and Colville River, which provide habitats for molting geese, caribou, raptors, and passerine. The plan also prohibits oil and gas facilities in riparian areas identified by the North Slope residents and governments as areas important for subsistence, forming a Subsistence Advisory Panel to address those issues.

An electronic version of the plan is available from the BLM Northern Field Office's web site at: http://aurora.ak.blm.gov/npra. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists recently adopted a position in favor of exploration and development in NPR-A. That statement, published in the April 1998 issue of AAPG Explorer, is included in an AGI update on NPR-A, available at: http://www.agiweb.org/legis105/npra98.html.

Background
In 1923, President Harding set aside a 23 million acre petroleum reserve in Alaska to provide an emergency oil supply for the US Navy. The area, Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4, was placed under the management of the Department of the Interior and slightly renamed as the National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska in 1976 by the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act. DOI sold several leases in the area in the 1980's, but none were developed and all have expired. Because production in other Alaska reserves has slowed in recent years, oil companies and Alaskan leadership have been pushing to open the area for development. The Alaska congressional delegation and Governor Tony Knowles (D) have been pressing the Administration to open NPR-A. Environmental groups have opposed such a move, pointing to the current drop in oil prices. Supporters counter that the NPR-A fields would not begin production for 10-15 years by which time the oil markets are likely to be substantially different. Of primary concern for industry and the state is maintaining flow rates in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System as the fields at Prudhoe Bay are exhausted. Others see opening NPR-A as a way to decrease pressure on allowing exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), also on the North Slope.

In February 1997, DOI began to prepare an Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement (IAP/EIS) for the 4.6-million-acre northeastern area of the NPR-A. The Bureau of Land Management led the project, which also involved the Minerals Management Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Geological Survey. The Department of the Interior also worked to include the state of Alaska, North Slope Borough, Alaska Natives, local residents, industry, and conservationists in the process. The IAP/EIS aimed to answer two questions: First, what protections and enhanced management will be implemented for surface resources, such as wildlife, wildlife habitat, fisheries, paleontological, subsistence and recreational resources? Second, whether BLM should conduct oil and gas lease sales in the planning area, and if so, which lands should be made available for leasing? After announcing the intent to prepare an IAP/EIS in February 1997, DOI held scoping meetings, a public science symposium, a stipulation workshop, a subsistence workshop, and issued periodic newsletters to interested parties. BLM released a draft plan in November 1997, posting it on the web to facilitate public comments. In addition, BLM held 9 public hearings on the draft plan as well as 10 additional hearings on the subsistence issue. All told, the agency had received approximately 7,000 written comments when the comment period for the draft IAP/EIS closed on March 12, 1998.


Contributed by Kasey Shewey and David Applegate, AGI Government Affairs

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Uploaded August 21, 1998; Last Revised October 8, 1998


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