Thursday, December 20, 2012

DOI Releases Final Plan For National Petroleum Reserve In Alaska

Dec 19: The Department of Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar announced the availability of the Integrated Activity Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final IAP/EIS) for the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A). The preferred alternative identified in the EIS would allow for the development of 72 percent of the estimated economically recoverable oil in the Reserve while protecting the vital subsistence resources of Alaska Natives and the habitat of world-class wildlife populations. Secretary Salazar also issued a memo to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) confirming that the preferred alternative will allow for the potential construction of pipelines carrying oil or gas from operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas through the NPR-A.

    After receiving more than 400,000 public comments and following two days of meetings and visits with North Slope leaders, Salazar first announced the key elements of the Preferred Alternative (Alternative B-2) for the IAP/EIS in August. Release of the Final IAP/EIS now paves the way for the Secretary to issue a Record of Decision (ROD) that adopts the final management plan in the first quarter of 2013. He said, "As part of President Obama's all-of-the-above strategy to continue to expand domestic energy production, this comprehensive plan will guide the transition from leasing and exploration to responsible production and transport of the Reserve's substantial oil and gas resources. A balanced approach will allow us to continue to expand our leasing in the NPR-A, as we've done over the last three years, while protecting significant caribou herds, migratory bird habitat and sensitive coastal resources that are critically important to the culture and subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Natives and our nation's conservation heritage."

    In the memo, Secretary Salazar also requested that the BLM engage in additional outreach to North Slope communities in the coming weeks, with an eye toward establishing a stakeholder group that will provide ongoing input on the management of protected areas and other NPR-A implementation issues. The Notice of Availability of the Final IAP/EIS, which will be published in the Federal Register on December 28, 2012, will start a minimum review period of 30 days prior to the issuance of a final decision by the Secretary. The Final IAP/EIS 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 comprehensive blueprint 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.

    DOI indicated in a release that domestic oil and gas production has grown each year the President has been in office, with domestic oil production currently higher than any time in nearly a decade and natural gas production at its highest level ever. Foreign oil imports now account for less than 50 percent of the oil consumed in America -- the lowest level since 1995. In fiscal year 2012, DOI paid out $12.15 billion in revenue generated from energy production on public lands and offshore areas -- a $1 billion increase over the previous year.

    Following President Obama's direction in May, 2011 that annual oil and gas lease sales be conducted in the NPR-A, BLM offered three million acres last December that 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 177 authorized oil and gas leases in the NPR-A, encompassing 1.4 million acres. To date, only exploratory drilling has occurred, but last year, 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 to allow for the first commercial oil and gas production in the Reserve.

    U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) issued a statement on the DOI Final IAP/EIS saying, "I continue to be concerned that the management plan chosen by the administration greatly restricts access to our nation's oil and natural gas resources, especially in the eastern portion of the petroleum reserve. I recognize Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's effort in the memorandum to clarify that pipelines may be constructed across the petroleum reserve, I remain concerned, however, that the plan sets up roadblocks to an economically feasible project. It's incumbent on the secretary to be clear in the record of decision that any future NEPA review of potential pipeline routes and infrastructure not prohibit construction of an economic project. As written, the absence of clear direction in the EIS jeopardizes future oil and gas production development in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

    "It's hard to have confidence in the plan given the discrepancies contained in the initial announcement. The administration's announcement indicates that it makes 72 percent of the oil in the reserve open to development, including allowing for recovery of an estimated 8.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. What the announcement doesn't say is that the plan locks up 83.5 percent of the likely natural gas in the reserve. That is totally unacceptable to the nation and to future economy of Alaska."

    She noted that just last year the Department of the Interior placed the mean estimate of natural gas available for recovery from the petroleum reserve at 52.8 trillion cubic feet. She said her position is that the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska's "legal purpose" is to provide petroleum to the United States to ensure the nation's energy security.
    Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued a statement indicating that the DOI plan would protect nearly 11 million acres of important wildlife habitat. He said, "Today's announcement is great news for conservation in America's Arctic. The final plan makes it clear that a balanced approach for using and protecting the western Arctic is possible and beneficial. For the first time it recognizes the importance of the Reserve for wildlife and Native communities, not just for fossil fuel development.

    "The Reserve supports the calving grounds of our nation's largest caribou herd, the highest concentration of grizzly bears and wolverines in the Arctic, and provides critical habitat for millions of shorebirds and waterfowl. The areas most important wildlife -- areas like Tshekpuk Lake and the Utukok Uplands -- must be kept off-limits to drilling and mining. This plan reflects the widespread desire voiced by Alaska Natives, businesses, scientists, and hundreds of thousands of Americans for protection of these irreplaceable special places in the western Arctic. We look forward to seeing these areas thrive as the plan is implemented. We look forward to continuing to work with the Obama Administration to fight climate disruption and to protect the special places in America's Arctic. The best solution is to move our country beyond oil. We should be investing in ways to make our cars cleaner and more efficient and expanding our transportation choices, not opening up our Arctic wonders to drilling and mining."

    Access a release from DOI and link to related information (click here). Access the NPR-A Final IAP/EIS documents from the BLM-Alaska website (click here). Access Secretary Salazar's memo to the Bureau of Land Management (click here). Access a map of the NPR-A final plan delineation and additional information (click here). Access the statement from Sen. Murkowski (click here). Access the statement from Sierra Club (click here). [#Energy/OilGas, #Wildlife, #Land]

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