National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (2-2-05)
Increasing domestic energy production has been a central
goal in congressional efforts to pass comprehensive energy legislation.
The bill passed by the House (H.R.
6) in April 2003 would expand oil production in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). While
ANWR has been the focal point in the controversy over opening federal
lands to oil exploration, administration moves to encourage drilling
in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA) have recieved far
less attention. NPRA is a 23 million acre site on the northern coast
of Alaska. In 1999 a federal lease sale was held in the northeastern
region of the reserve and a number of exploration wells have been
drilled that encountered oil and natural gas. A map
of Alaska's Arctic coast shows both NPRA and ANWR in relationship
to Prudhoe Bay -- the central focus of petroleum exploration -- and
the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System (TAPS).
The Bureau of Land Management announced final plans
on January 28th for expanding oil and gas leasing in the northeast
corner of Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve, allowing access to
about 2 billion barrels of oil and 3.5 trillion cubic feet of gas
that are now off-limits. The final
environmental impact statement endorses new leasing on about 389,000
acres of the reserve's northeast planning areas. It expands a Clinton
administration plan that opened about 4 million acres of the northeast
area to energy development.
The final plan prevents, at least for now, leasing on 211,000 acres
of the sensitive Teshekpuk Lake ecosystem. But it sanctions development
in areas north of the lake that were not available under a draft unveiled
last year, albeit with "no surface occupancy" restrictions
on production that will prompt use of so-called directional drilling,
BLM spokeswoman Jody Weil told Greenwire. Overall, the plan means
that about 95 percent of the 4.6 million northeastern portion of the
reserve would be open to leasing, and Weil said a lease sale for the
newly available areas could be held as soon as July of this year.
BLM project leader Susan Childs said in an interview that the plan
will allow development while protecting wildlife habitat and subsistence
needs of local populations. BLM is touting several measures it says
will minimize the plan's effect on wildlife, such as limiting surface
disturbance to 300 acres per lease in tracts north of Teshekpuk Lake
and minimizing disruption of caribou movement by requiring pipelines
to be a minimum of 7 feet off the ground.
Likewise, Alaska officials praised the plan. John Katz, Alaska's
director of state/federal relations and special counsel to the governor,
told Greenwire that it provides a "good balance between the need
to develop domestic petroleum sources and protect native subsistence
uses and wildlife habitat."
Not suprisingly, environmnetalists disagreed with BLM's assessment
of the plan's wildlife impact. Historically, environmentalists have
challenged BLM decisions to open other areas of the 23.5 million acre
reserve, which according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates contains
between 5.9 billion and 13.2 billion barrels of oil. (2/2/2005)
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 (DOI) and renamed as the National
Petroleum Reserve - Alaska (NPRA) in 1976 by the Naval Petroleum Reserves
Production Act. DOI sold several leases in the 1980s, but only two
exploratory wells were drilled. Neither wells resulted in industry
developing any petroleum resources. In May 1999, the Bureau of Land
Management (BLM) held another federal
lease sale in the northeastern section of NPRA that resulted in 133
leases. Several exploratory wells have been drilled in these areas
and many have encountered oil and gas resources. Additional wells
are scheduled to be drilled in 2002. This northeastern section of
NPRA is adjactant the Alpine oil field that was announced in 1996.
The Alpine field is estimated to contain about 429 million barrels
of recoverable oil.
Both BLM and the Minerals Management Service (MMS)
are moving ahead with plans for future leasing activities in NPRA.
BLM opened another NPRA lease
sale in June 2002. MMS, which oversees oil and gas production
from the outer continental shelf, announced in the September
19, 2001, Federal Register its consideration of three lease
sales in the Beaufort Sea that is off the northeastern section of
NPRA. Preleasing activities include a call for information and a Notice
of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). These
preparations would allow MMS to hold a lease sale in fall 2003.
In May 2002, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
released its re-assessment of the undiscovered oil and natural gas
resources within the NPRA. The last assessment was completed in 1980
and reported that the technically recoverable oil in the area on federal
lands totaled between 0.3 and 5.4 billion barrels of oil (BBO). According
to the new assessment, which includes an economic analysis of the
technically recoverable resources, there is between 1.3 and 5.6 BBO
that are considered economically recoverable at market prices between
$22 and $30 per barrel. It also estimates that there is between 39.1
and 83.2 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of natural gas on federal lands
within NPRA, but that the economic viability of these resources depends
on transporting them to markets in the lower 48 states.
In January 2004, Interior Department Secretary Gale Norton approved
a plan that would open almost 8.8 million acres in NPR-A. The Interior
Department is also considering revising 1998 rules for oil and gas
activity in the northeastern area of NPR-A because it believes that
the rules are keeping about 2 billion barrels of oil unavailable.
In March 2004, the State of Alaska announced that it would sell leases
for oil and gas exploration for 350,000 acres of offshore areas immediately
north of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Additionally,
the state will offer up to 670,000 acres of state-managed lands north
of the nearby National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) for exploration
and development in an October lease sale.
Sources: E&E News Publications, Department of the Interior,
Greenwire, Reuters, U.S. Geological Survey, and Washington Post.
Background section includes material from AGI's Update
on National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska for the 108th Congress.
Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government
Affairs Program at email@example.com.
Contributed by David R. Millar AGI/AAPG Fall Semester Intern; Emily
Lehr Wallace AGI Government Affairs Program
Last Updated: February 2, 2005