Archive for the ‘National Petroleum Reserve – A’ Tag

When a Petroleum Reserve is a Park   Leave a comment

Last year Secretary Salazar released a new Integrated Activity Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (IAP/EIS) for the 23 million acre National Petroleum Reserve- Alaska (NPR-A).  The plan, which had been under consideration for a year and gone through a public comment period, closed 30% of the reserve to oil and gas exploration in the SW and NE corners and allowed oil exploration in roughly half.

Alaska’s delegation to Washington and the Governor derided the plan as treating an officially designated petroleum reserve as a wildlife refuge. Rex Rock of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) which owns land within NPR-A and whose Alaskan Native shareholders subsist off the lands in question stated, “the Department of the Interior is locking up the most prospective areas for increased domestic energy supply, while proposing lease sales on tracts of land with low oil potential”.  Secretary Salazar said in his announcement that the version of the plan chosen was drafted with the strongest conservation measures in mind. Four plans were released in March 2011 by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) part of the Dept. of Interior.

NPR-A is the largest petroleum reserve in America and was established during WWII as a possible source for domestic oil supply. The reserve lies in the northcentral region of Alaska just to the west of Prudhoe Bay and Alpine oil field. Since 2000, 29 private wells have been drilled in NPR-A. The US government has drilled and abandoned without cleanup 136 wells there (Google Lisa Murkowski and legacy oil wells). Not a single barrel of oil has been produced from the area, mainly due to the lack of roads and pipelines to NPR-A. Permits to cross the bordering Colville River to link to pipelines in Prudhoe Bay and the Trans Alaska Pipeline have been blocked. In May 2011 President Obama stated he supported yearly lease sales in NPR-A to allow for greater domestic oil production. Many Alaskans consider the President’s optimism a political red herring since the limited tracks offered had few prospects and access was being blocked by his administration. No industry would bid on land unless they thought commercial reserves they could deliver to market lay under it.

The Secretary’s new plan took 30% of the most oil-rich prospects off the table and allowed exploration in only half of the remaining. Special “no-go” zones near Teshekpuk Lake in the NE corner close to Alpine oil field just outside of NPR-A have been created as well as by the village of Wainwright where a possible Chukchi Sea pipeline would reach landfall. Yes, those areas contain the expected largest quantities of oil and/or are necessary for the transport of oil. Alaskans view this as deliberate administrative blocking to discourage development that has strong support from the Native community and the governing North Slope Borough. The Secretary, in making his decision on the plan, stated that environmental concern and conservation were his first priorities.

Secretary Salazar outright ignores the history and reality of Prudhoe Bay. Built on tundra littered with thousands of lakes and wetlands, Prudhoe Bay has managed to retain a 100% success rate with wildlife, birds and fish of the area. All species of bird, fish, mammals and plant life are monitored by law within the oil fields on multiple levels of jurisdiction. Not a single species or site has shown decline in animal population or degradation due to development. In fact, the bird and mammal populations within the oil field are higher than the surrounding areas because no hunting is permitted within the fields. Teshekpuk Lake within NPR-A is no different from other areas within Prudhoe Bay and sports no special or different wildlife or fauna than other areas on the coast.

Salazar claimed conservation of caribou and Native subsistence culture (“Native interests”) are reasons for taking land off the leasing schedule. This is completely unsupported by the Native community. Arctic Slope Regional Corporation is a Native-owned company representing the people of the area and is also one of the most active oil companies in the state. The Western Arctic Herd which migrates through NPR-A calves further to the south, not around the coast or newly restricted areas. For perspective, the Central Arctic Herd at Prudhoe Bay (to the east) has increased from 5000 to 66,000 animals and calves in the middle of the oil fields. My husband has taken photographs with a telephoto lens showing a calf sliding out of its mother. He was standing at the door of the Main Construction Camp Housing Unit.

Caribou, waterfowl, and fish do not stop moving at the edge of a “special area” but roam freely. Locking up one part of land to allow development in another means nothing to migrating animals, birds and fish. Both the North Slope Borough and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and all the local village corporations support development in all of NPR-A.

Both the North Slope Borough and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation derive revenue from taxes and leases on their private land from the industry. These tax and royalty dollars pay for the construction of schools, public utilities, airports and hospitals for the Arctic communities. The USGS recently revised its estimates of oil and gas for NPR-A down from 9bbls to 1bbls with 500,000 million barrels being economically recoverable. It’s also thought that 50 trillion cubic feet of gas exist under the reserve.  This estimate includes oil from land recently taken off the table by the Secretary.

Some of the areas taken off the table by the Secretary in plan B-2 are areas that had already been leased to commercial entities and that have proven oil potential.  Authority to operate these leases will have to be rescinded by the government, bringing into question the entire leasing process.

Recently problems with ConocoPhillips “CD-5” drill site just inside NPR-A on Native lands were cleared up but showed the inconsistencies and double standards of the federal agencies involved in permitting operations.  Despite issuing environmental operations permits itself for the project, the EPA disapproved and prevented US Corps permits on construction of a bridge to the site. Yes, the EPA issued permits for the project and then disapproved the Corps permits for the same project. The project was delayed for three years while ConocoPhillips continued to pay on the federal lease every year without the ability to produce from it. The permit that was finally issued included 22 special conditions meant to minimize the impact to the environment within the Arctic Coast Plain. Now, seven members of the village of Nuiqsut (a village created – along with Atqasuk — in the 1970s for the express purpose of soaking the oil companies) are suing to prevent the bridge across the Colville River from being built and the Center for Biodiversity has announced its planning to sue under the Endangered Species Act.

And people wonder why Alaskans think we might be better off as an independent nation? Really??? You wonder? Isn’t that a little like wondering why a battered wife wants to leave the man that’s beating her?

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