State Proposes $50 Million for ANWR Development

Governor Parnell said the state aims to do both wintertime exploration and 3-d seismic testing on the Coastal Plain of ANWR.

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The $50 millions the state would pony up covers a third of the cost. The state is banking on the federal government and private industry to come up with the rest.

Governor Parnell said the federal government, under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, or ANILCA, needs to survey the resource potential.

“The federal government can’t legitimately evaluate impact unless it knows the breadth of the oil and gas resources it stands to recover for Americans’ benefit,” he said in a Monday teleconference. “President Obama has also recognized the need to use comprehensive information in decision making in the Arctic. So let’s get the information.”

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the nation’s largest business lobby, hosted the conference.

On hand in Washington, D.C. to make the pitch is Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan. He said the Interior Department is preparing its ANWR management plan, and from what he hears, it will not include expanded oil and gas drilling.

“The six alternatives that are in their ANWR Management Plan? Not one of them mentions anything to do with assessing oil and gas on the coastal plain. Not one,” he complained.

Congress has repeatedly blocked drilling in ANWR. Last year the House passed a bill opening up a segment of the refuge, only to see it garner a slim 41 votes in the Senate.

Three Democrats, including Senator Mark Begich, voted for that amendment, but seven Republicans voted against it.

Commissioner Sullivan, a former state attorney general, said state lawyers don’t know whether it’s legal to proceed with seismic testing without Congressional okay.

“Whether a full exploration program would fit under ANILCA, or would require additional Congressional authority, we’re not sure,” he said. “That’s why we’re proposing this plan to both the Department of Interior and to Congress.”

He said the state told the Interior Department Friday it was releasing the plan. Sullivan will discuss the seismic testing with Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes this week.

“When we’ve had a discussion with the federal government on this issue, there’s a bit of a head in the sand, head in the tundra view, where they don’t want to know anymore,” Sullivan joked.

Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, didn’t find anything amusing.

“Talk about wasting taxpayers’ dollars,” she said Monday afternoon.

She called the state’s move pure politics.

And on top of that, Shogan said the federal government has made clear any development requires Congressional approval.

“It would take an act of Congress to do any exploration or leasing or development on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge. So it’s illegal,” she said.

Also in D.C. promoting the plan are Alaska Native leaders, including North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower. Brower told the ausience the borough has consistently pushed for onshore development.

“We’d rather have onshore development because that’s more responsible than offshore. That’s important for us,” she said while seated next to the state’s Resources Commissioner.

ANWR is located in the borough. And Kaktovik is the only village in ANWR. For years residents have debated whether development in the refuge is a good thing.

Officials with the Department of Interior did not return calls for comment. But their management plan is rumored to be complete. There’s no set publication date.