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Plan for Alaska petroleum reserve may permit Arctic oil pipeline

Alaska Dispatch
Alaska Oil and Gas Commission photo

Wrapping up a three-day visit to Alaska, Department of the Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced a management plan for developing part of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, a 23-million-acre federal landholding on Arctic coast of the 49th state.

Salazar outlined three priorities -- wildlife protection, national energy needs and subsistence requirements of 40 Alaska Native villages near the NPR-A -- that would guide federal regulators as they work on a finalized plan, known as 'Alternative B.'

Key points of the plan as reported by the Associated Press:

  • Proposal leaves available more than half of reserve acreage that's available for development.
  • Infrastructure could be built for transporting oil from offshore Arctic federal leases in the Chukchi Sea to the 800-mile-long trans-Alaska pipeline.
  • Calving areas for two caribou herds known to migrate across NPR-A would be unavailable for development.

Alaska's delegation to the U.S. Senate criticized Interior's proposal. Sen. Lisa Murkowski called it the "most restrictive plan possible" for NPR-A development. In a press release, Sen. Mark Begich specifically questioned how a pipeline could be built to service offshore Arctic oil production if land near Kasegeluk Lagoon and the Native village of Wainwright was closed to development. But environmental groups like the Sierra Club and National Audubon Society embraced the NPR-A alternative as a "great victory for birds, wildlife and common sense." 

NPR-A has been an energy industry focus since the 1990s discovery of the adjacent Alpine Field, among the largest onshore oil discoveries in a quarter century according to the U.S. Geological Service. However, exploratory wells drilled in the reserve and on nearby Native land holdings led the USGS to revise downward estimates of recoverable oil, once thought to be 9 billion barrels and now forecast to be around 500 million barrels