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 today outlined a proposed plan that will allow for additional access for oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A) 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 plan will be analyzed in detail and presented for public review as the preferred alternative for the NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (IAP/EIS) later this year.
"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 IAP/EIS, released March 30, presented four future management alternatives for the NPR-A for public comment. The Final IAP/EIS, expected to be released in late 2012, will include "Alternative B-2," a modified version of Alternative B, as the preferred alternative. The release of the Final IAP/EIS starts a 30-day review period before the Secretary may issue a final decision.
"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. "As the first integrated activity plan for the entire NPR-A, this will provide a roadmap to help facilitate the transition from leasing and cautious exploration to production and smart development."
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 NPR-A, 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 NPR-A in November of this year. To date, only exploratory drilling has occurred within the NPR-A, although last year, with the assistance of the President's Interagency Working Group on Coordination of Domestic Energy Development and Permitting in Alaska, permits were issued to ConocoPhillips to allow for future production of oil and gas resources within the NPR-A.
The preferred alternative will also identify areas within the NPR-A 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 areas important for subsistence.
The NPR-A is one of the Arctic's greatest migratory bird nesting and molting areas and is the summer home for hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds, including critical molting areas for up to 30% of the entire population of Pacific Flyway brant goose. The NPR-A provides calving areas and insect relief areas for the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, Alaska's largest herd at roughly 325,000 animals, and the 55,000 animal Teshekpuk Caribou Herd. These populations are a subsistence resource for over 40 northern and western Alaska Native villages.
The preferred alternative allows for the possibility of pipelines and related infrastructure to be built in the NPR-A 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.
More than 400,000 public comments and public meetings on the Draft IAP/EIS helped inform the preferred alternative and came from a wide variety of stakeholders, including Alaska Native tribal governments, corporations and other Native organizations; state, local and federal government agencies; elected officials; industry and business organizations; conservation organizations and individual citizens. In the coming weeks, the BLM will work with its cooperating agencies, including the State of Alaska, the North Slope Borough, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, as it prepares the Final IAP/EIS.
By law, BLM administers the NPR-A for the purposes of oil and gas leasing, along with protection of areas containing significant subsistence, recreational, fish and wildlife, or historical or scenic value.
For a map of the preferred alternative and additional information, go to http://blm.gov/dnkd.