Citing the risk to Alaskan and American jobs, Governor Sean Parnell today urged Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to exercise his authority to expedite the Record of Decision (ROD) on the Point Thomson project. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has recently informed state officials that it is delaying a major decision on the plan until late November -- one in a series of federal delays regarding this project.
Point Thomson is the largest undeveloped oil and gas field in Alaska. Timely completion of the ROD is important to keep Point Thomson on schedule for development -- in particular, to enable construction to begin this winter. As part of its settlement of a long-standing dispute with the state, the field operator, ExxonMobil, has committed to first production of gas condensate from the field no later than the winter of 2015-2016. The project is expected to sustain 600 to 700 jobs and peak employment of 2,400 jobs. It will increase throughput in the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, and provide an important impetus to large-scale commercialization of North Slope natural gas.
As the lead federal agency, the Corps of Engineers had committed to issue the Point Thomson ROD by September 21, 2012.
"I am writing to inform you of a developing situation that is of urgent concern to the State of Alaska: continued federal permitting delays involving the Point Thomson development project on the North Slope," Governor Parnell wrote in a letter to Salazar. "These delays come in spite of repeated commitments made by federal officials to the State -- as recently as last week -- that target dates for a permitting decision were on track. Such delays would jeopardize critical energy production from the North Slope to boost the flow of oil through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and the creation of thousands of jobs that our country so desperately needs. The purpose of this letter is to ask you to exercise your authority to improve and coordinate permitting, particularly for energy projects in Alaska."
This is not the first delay in the federal review of the Point Thomson project. One construction season was lost due to the Corps of Engineers' delayed completion of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which was originally anticipated to be issued in November 2010, but was delayed one year and instead issued on November 16, 2011. The final EIS for the project was issued on July 27, 2012.
Governor Parnell, Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, and other state officials have repeatedly emphasized the need for timely federal decision making on the Point Thomson project, in letters to the Corps of Engineers and the Department of Interior, and in public testimony.
In a letter to the Corps of Engineers on July 6, 2012, Sullivan wrote, "Any additional EIS or permitting delays should be avoided to help mitigate the risk of extending the Point Thomson project schedule any further."