An agreement between two federal agencies on Monday leaves only one formal step in the process to open the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska – or NPRA — for development.
The Army Corps of Engineers has refused to permit access to the area by way of a four-mile long gravel road and a bridge across the Colville River. The Corps’ rejection was based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s declaration of the Colville as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance.
Monday’s agreement between the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declares the bridge as the preferred environmental alternative for access to the reserve. With their objection removed, final approval by the Corps is expected within a few weeks and will allow Conoco Phillips to begin work on the leases it now holds at the CD-5 oilfield, just west of the Alpine fields on the North Slope.
Senator Lisa Murkowski said word of the agreement is good, although she recognizes that final step the Corps of Engineers needs to take.
For years we have been talking about the potential available within the NPR-A. But if operators can’t access the area through roads or bridges, then the promise of a lease or a permit means nothing. So to finally be on the way where Conoco will be able to advance a bridge over the Colville River – to get to the other side – is very welcome news.
ConocoPhilips’ spokesperson Natalie Lowman sees the agreement between the agencies as a positive step in getting to work in the CD-5 field. However, she declines to say when work would get underway.
Because we haven’t seen the permit or its conditions, we can’t really say when we would start, But receiving this permit is one of the key steps in order to receive the go-ahead to sanction the project. But again, because the actual permit hasn’t been issued we can’t say when work will begin.
Murkowski says she, too, hopes no problems come with conditions attached to the permit when it is issued. She says she spoke this morning with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar who assured her that the EPA is no longer objecting to the development.
The conditions are yet to be finally reviewed. We anticipate that they will be in the area we had anticipated which is a requirement for using the same crossing rather than additional crossings in the river and some engineering changes. But we are very hopeful that there will be no surprises with these conditions once we learn the exact nature of them.
Republican Congressman Don Young said he welcomed hearing of the agreement, but added, “It should have happened sooner.”
And Senator Mark Begich praised ConocoPhilips and the Interior Department for continuing to work toward the agreement. He said “Alaska’s oil and gas industry needs to hear some good news on the development front.”