The Record of Decision addresses two key issues that Secretary Salazar identified for special attention when he released the final Environmental Impact Statement for the NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan. First, the ROD provides explicit confirmation that potential pipelines carrying oil or gas from operations in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas can be constructed through the NPR-A. Second, following additional consultations with North Slope communities, the Record of Decision requires that BLM establish an "NPR-A Working Group" that will include representatives of North Slope tribal entities, Native corporations and local governments.
The NPR-A Working Group will provide input on the full range of management issues and possible future development in the NPR-A, including pipelines and related oil and gas infrastructure development. The Working Group also will be a forum to gather additional scientific information and traditional knowledge about wildlife populations and needs, and it can inform potential adjustments to the boundaries of special areas including, for example, potential future adjustments to the southernmost boundary of the Teshekpuk Lake special area. The Plan itself is consistent with the Congressional intent that oil and gas leases be offered in the NPR-A while providing significant protections for the subsistence resources of Alaska Native residents of the area and the Reserve's extensive wildlife and recreational values.
After receiving more than 400,000 public comments and following two days of meetings and visits with North Slope leaders in August 2012, Salazar announced the Preferred Alternative, which was adopted by the ROD that he signed today. The ROD includes the creation of the Peard Bay Special Area and enlarges the Teshekpuk Lake and Utukok River Uplands Special Areas, expanding Special Areas in the NPR-A from 8.3 million acres to 13.35 million acres.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has estimated that the NPR-A lands made available for development under this plan contain nearly three-fourths of NPR-A's estimated economically recoverable oil and over half of the estimated economically recoverable gas. The plan 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.
Following President Obama's directive in May 2011 that annual oil and gas lease sales be conducted in the NPR-A, BLM offered three million acres in December 2011. That sale 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 191 authorized oil and gas leases in the NPR-A, encompassing 1.5 million acres. To date, only exploratory drilling has occurred, but in 2011, 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 that will allow for the first commercial oil and gas production in the Reserve.
The ROD makes all lands along the Chukchi Sea coast, most of the lands along the Beaufort Sea coast, and other lands available for application for a wide range of route options for pipelines and other infrastructure that would support offshore development. The decision concurrently protects a wide range of resources, including critical areas for sensitive bird populations from all seven continents and for the roughly 400,000 caribou found in the Teshekpuk Lake and Western Arctic Caribou Herds. Subsistence users in more than 40 villages in northwest Alaska rely on these caribou herds.
The plan, which is detailed in the Final Integrated Activity Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final IAP/EIS) for the NPR-A, 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 Final IAP/EIS for the NPR-A, released in December 2012, was developed through extensive consultations that considered the viewpoints of Alaskans who live in the region, tribal governments, the State of Alaska, industry, environmental organizations and other stakeholders and federal partners. The BLM hosted seven public meetings and Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act subsistence hearings in North Slope villages. The BLM also held meetings in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Also, following release of the Final IAP/EIS, the BLM conducted meetings in communities on the North Slope to receive recommendations on future ongoing outreach efforts with communities located within or near the NPR-A.
Environmental and conservation groups applauded the plan and said they look forward to continuing to work with the DOI to refine needed protections for key special areas within the Reserve. Cindy Shogan, Executive Director, Alaska Wilderness League said,. "We thank the Department of the Interior for protecting special areas within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. The Department of the Interior has crafted a plan that protects and recognizes the vital role of subsistence, scenic and recreational values, and unique wildlife values. The Reserve is home to our most iconic wildlife, like caribou, muskoxen, grizzly bears and beluga whales. Thank you for protecting this special place for future generations."
Martin Hayden, Vice President, Policy and Legislation for Earthjustice said, "The plan is a huge step for conservation of the Western Arctic, an area increasingly stressed by climate change, and provides critical protections for key lands in the Reserve and the wildlife dependent on it, including migratory birds from around the world, caribou, bears, wolves, beluga whales, and walrus." Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society said, "We are grateful to the Obama administration for a fair and thoughtful decision that balances conservation, Alaska Natives' needs for subsistence resources, and the nation's demand for energy. This strategy protects incredibly valuable wildlife habitat for caribou, bears and migratory waterfowl in the Western Arctic, yet still allows industry access to the majority of economically recoverable oil in the reserve. It's a plan that meets the needs of all Americans."
Access a lengthy release from DOI with links to related information (click here). Access the NPR-A ROD and related documents (click here). Access a release from Earthjustice with comments from many organizations (click here). [#Energy/NPR-A, #Land, #Wildlife, #Water]