While pleased with the clear confirmation to allow pipeline construction to safely and economically carry offshore oil and gas from the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich today remained disappointed with the Department of the Interior's (DOI) final decision on a development plan for the National Petroleum Reserve (NPR-A), citing dismissal of local comments on resource development.
"Despite their claims, it is clear the Interior Department yet again has made a decision about Alaska land use that ignores what Alaskans want," Begich said. "I appreciate the strong and clear language on future pipeline routes through the NPR-A to carry Beaufort and Chukchi oil. But I am left wondering what good a working group will do if they haven't been doing a good job of listening so far? As Elvis Presley said, we need "a little less conversation and a little more action'."
The DOI today issued their final Record of Decision on a management plan for the 23 million-acre NPR-A. The plan explicitly allows for the construction of a pipeline and recognizes the importance of working with stakeholders, but removes from potential future leasing, some of the most promising and oil prone areas in the eastern part of the reserve, near existing infrastructure.
The plan includes the formation a Working Group to engage local stakeholders to gather additional scientific information and traditional knowledge about wildlife populations and needs, and inform potential adjustments to the boundaries of special areas including possible future adjustments to the southernmost boundary of the Teshekpuk Lake special area.
"When a local community comes together on land use decisions that affect their daily lives and their future, Washington needs to listen," said Begich. "I'm far from convinced they have listened so far and the jury is still out on whether they will. No one disputes the importance of Teshekpuk Lake to waterfowl and caribou, but I think we should listen most closely to those who live there and depend on both these critical subsistence resources as well as the economic opportunity resource development can bring."
Begich has continuously pressed the administration to improve the working relationship between the DOI and North Slope residents and stakeholders. Specifically, Begich has pushed DOI to heed requests from the North Slope community of Nuiqsut, located inside the NPR-A boundary and closest to existing development, as well as Alaska producers in removing some of the development restrictions in the more oil-prone eastern part of the reserve, particularly to the south of Teshekpuk Lake.
In December, the village of Nuiqsut sent a joint statement from the city government, village corporation and tribal government asking for more area south of Teshekpuk Lake to be available for leasing. These requests were largely ignored in today's decision.
The decision comes on the heels of President Obama's decision to nominate businesswoman Sally Jewell as Secretary of the Interior Department. Begich is meeting with Jewell in Washington next week and plans to grill her on numerous Alaska issues, including NPRA and the recent DOI ban on a critical road providing an emergency route to a nearby airport for residents of King Cove, Alaska.
The NPR-A is expected to hold 895 million barrels of technically recoverable oil and 52.8 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable natural gas.