National Petroleum Reserve Development
The National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska is an area of land on the Alaska North Slope owned by the United States federal government and managed by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management. It lies to the west of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service managed National Wildlife Refuge, is also considered federal land. At a size of 23.5 million acres, the area has been described as "the largest tract of undisturbed public land in the United States". After receiving more than 400,000 public comments and following two days of meetings and visits with North Slope leaders, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has outlined a proposed plan that will allow for additional access for oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska while also protecting world-class caribou herds, migratory bird habitat, uplands, and sensitive coastal resources that are central to the culture and subsistence lifestyle of Alaska Natives and our nation’s conservation heritage.
The NPRA was created by President Warren G. Harding in 1923 as Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4 during a time when the United States was converting its Navy to run on oil rather than coal. In 1976 the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act renamed the reserve the "National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska" and transferred it from the Navy to the Department of the Interior. The 1980 Interior Department Appropriations Act directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) within the Department of Interior to conduct oil and gas leasing. Nevertheless, the area was left essentially as a wilderness until the late 1990s.
The NPRA is an ecologically important area, human settlements are small and rare, and resembles a Pleistocene landscape. It contains Teshekpuk Lake, an important nesting ground for many species of migratory bird, including shorebirds and waterfowl. The NPRA also supports more than half-a million caribou of the Western Arctic and Teshekpuk Caribou Herds. The Western Arctic Herd calves in the Utukok, Kokolik and Colville uplands, while the Teshekpuk Herd calves in the areas surrounding Teshekpuk Lake.
"To harness the oil and gas potential of the NPR-A, we need a plan that will help the industry bring energy safely to market from this remote location, while also protecting wildlife and subsistence rights of Alaska Natives," Salazar said.
"This proposal would allow us to continue to expand our leasing in the NPR-A, as we have done over the last three years as part of the Obama Administration’s focus on expanding safe and responsible oil and gas development, and builds on our efforts to help companies develop the infrastructure that’s needed to bring supplies online. This plan also strikes an important balance by recognizing the need to protect America’s treasures in the Arctic, from the raptors of the Colville River and the polar bears of the Beaufort Sea coast, to Teshekpuk Lake, Peard Bay, and some of the largest caribou herds on Earth."
The Draft Environmental Impact Assessment, released March 30, presented four future management alternatives for the area for public comment. The Final Assessment, expected to be released in late 2012, will include Alternative B-2, a modified version of Alternative B, as the preferred alternative.
"With its energy supplies, importance to Alaska Natives, and wildlife resources, it is vital that we continue to hear from the many stakeholders and the public as we work to strike the right management balance in the NPR-A," acting Bureau of Land Management Director Mike Pool said.
The approximately 11.8 million acres that would be available for leasing under the preferred alternative — which makes the vast majority of projected oil resources in the NPR-A available for leasing — are estimated to hold approximately 549 million barrels of discovered and undiscovered economically recoverable oil and approximately 8.7 trillion cubic feet of discovered and undiscovered economically recoverable natural gas.
Following President Obama’s direction in May, 2011 that annual oil and gas lease sales be conducted in the area, BLM offered 3 million acres in a lease sale last December that generated 17 winning bids covering more than 140,000 acres. The agency will conduct another lease sale in the area in November of this year. To date, only exploratory drilling has occurred within the area.
The preferred alternative will also identify areas within the area that will receive special protection from development such as some coastal areas — including Peard Bay and Kasegaluk Lagoon - that serve as habitat for seals, polar bears and other marine mammals; the Colville River raptor nesting areas; calving areas for the Teshekpuk Caribou Herd and the Western Arctic Herd; and other areas important for subsistence.
The preferred alternative allows for the possibility of pipelines and related infrastructure to be built in the area to accommodate potential future offshore oil and gas production in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The plan does not predetermine whether pipelines and infrastructure can or should be built, and any such proposal would be the subject of a comprehensive environmental analysis and a separate decision-making process, as required by law.
For further information see Development.
Map image via Wikipedia.