Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is one step closer to finalizing a management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve on Alaska’s North Slope. Salazar signed off today on the preferred alternative for the reserve and released the full details on what’s included in the plan.
The proposed plan splits 23 million acres roughly 50-50 between protected areas and land available for oil leasing. Bud Cribley, state director for the Bureau of Land Management, which oversees NPR-A, says the plan is designed to answer one basic question.
“How can we best allow for the development of oil and gas resources and also the construction of infrastructure to support offshore development in a balanced manner to both meet the needs from the administration of promoting energy development while still protecting the natural resource values within the National Petroleum Reserve?,” Cribley said.
The plan also allows for potential construction of a pipeline that could carry oil drilled from offshore wells in the Arctic Ocean. That was a point Salazar highlighted when he announced the preferred plan in August in Anchorage.
“The preferred alternative also allows for the possibility of a pipeline. And infrastructure to be built across the NPR-A to accommodate potential future offshore oil production in the Chukchi Sea. Any such proposal of course, would be subject to an environmental analysis and a separate decision making process as required by law. There is no route yet that has been proposed at this time,” Salazar said.
But oil companies and other pro-development groups say those assurances are not enough. Robert Dillon is the communications director for Senator Murkowski on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He says the plan makes it nearly impossible for a company to economically build a pipeline through the NPR-A.
Dillon says the plan essentially creates a pipeline corridor that crosses specially designated areas – areas that would require extra environmental reviews.
“Future reviews of a pipeline application could require that pipeline to avoid those areas completely, which means you wouldn’t have a direct route, or to go through extra mitigation efforts that are going to increase the cost of a pipeline. All of this could eventually make a pipeline unfeasible,” Dillon said.
The final assessment will be released after a minimum review period of 30 days.
Dillon says that plan needs to include an explicit call for a feasible pipeline.
Bud Cribley, with BLM says he does think it’s possible to build an economically viable pipeline. And Senator Mark Begich agrees. He says if not, he’s prepared to find a legislative solution.
“We’re not going to have stranded oil and gas in the Beaufort Sea. If it’s commercially viable to develop Chukchi and Beaufort, which I believe it will be, then there’s going to be a pipeline, hell or high water to make sure it gets to the Trans Alaska Pipeline,” Begich said.
Interior Secretary Salazar says the areas designated for development cover 72 percent of the estimated recoverable oil in the reserve.
But Begich is concerned not enough land is available for oil and gas leasing. He says he intends to press the case with Salazar during the review period.
“Some will say, this is a lot of land already available in the NPRA. Well yeah, quantity doesn’t mean quality. Meaning he might have a lot of acreage, but its low value in oil development so that means nothing to us,” Begich said.
Environmental groups offered praise for the management plan. Audubon Society President David Yarnold says, “this plan proves that sound energy policy and conservation can go hand in hand.”
The plan protects environmentally sensitive areas such as bird habitat around Teshekpuk Lake.
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