Interior Secretary Zinke Signs Order to Address ANWR, National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska

Amid his visit to Alaska, Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke on May 31 signed a secretarial order designed to boost energy production in the state through new resource assessments of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) and the non-wilderness area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The assessments will result in reports from Department of Interior (DOI) officials to revise an Integrated Activity Plan for NPR-A that strikes an appropriate balance between promoting oil and natural gas development and protecting surface resources, said secretarial order 3352.

Within 31 days of the order, the DOI Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy, Vincent Devito, is to deliver a plan to Zinke for reviewing and carrying out the agency’s actions under the order. “We will develop a responsible plan for responsible development,” Devito said in a statement.

The order would modify an Integrated Activity Plan for the NPR-A that was adopted by a 2/21/13 Record of Decision from DOI under former President Barack Obama, which made about 11 million acres of the 22.8-million acre NPR-A unavailable for leasing. That decision precluded development of up to 350 million barrels of oil and 45 Tcf of natural gas, DOI said.

Zinke travelled to Alaska with members of the state’s congressional delegation, who have been pushing for increased energy production in Alaska for years, and who praised the DOI order in a May 31 statement.

“This secretarial order is exactly the type of announcement that so many Alaskans have been asking for: a smart, timely step to restore access to our lands, throughput to our Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and growth to our economy under reasonable regulations that do not sacrifice environmental protections,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The order directs the Assistant Secretaries of Land and Minerals Management and Water and Science at DOI to submit a joint plan to Devito for updating assessments of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas resources of Alaska’s North Slope, focusing on federal lands the NPR-A and the non-wilderness area, dubbed Section 1002, of ANWR. The joint plan, to be delivered to Devito in 21 days, must include consideration of new geological and geophysical data, as well as potential for reprocessing existing geological and geophysical data, DOI said.

The plan must include an evaluation to effectively maximize the tracts offered for sale during the next NPR-A lease sale.

While ANWR spans about 19 million acres, Section 1002 is in the 1.5-million acre coastal plain of ANWR, which was set aside by Congress and the President in 1980 because of its potential for oil and gas development, DOI said.

Environmental groups and others have opposed more exploration and production in the NPR-A and ANWR for years, and congressional attempts to boost production there have failed, while President Donald Trump’s recent budget proposal calls for drilling in the Section 1002 area of ANWR.

The prudent development of Alaska’s vast energy resources “is essential to ensuring the Nation’s geopolitical security,” the order said.

The order does not reduce, eliminate, or modify any environmental or regulatory requirements for energy development, DOI said in its statement.

“To the extent there is any inconsistency between the provisions of this Order and any Federal laws or regulations, the laws or regulations will control,” the order said.

In March of 2017, energy firms Repsol and Armstrong Energy said they made the largest onshore conventional hydrocarbon discovery in Alaska in the past 30 years. The resources identified in the Nanushuk play in Alaska’s North Slope could amount to about 1.2 billion barrels of recoverable light oil, the companies said.

Development of such resources could help refill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, boost the economy in Alaska, which has been hit hard by reduced oil and gas prices, and enhance energy security in the U.S., officials said.

Zinke signed the order at the annual conference of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. He noted that the NPR-A was established with the intention to be used for oil and gas production, but “years of politics over policy put roughly half of the NPR-A off-limits.” He said DOI will work with the Alaska Native community to identify areas where responsible energy development makes the most sense and carry out a plan “that both respects the environment and traditional uses of the land as well as maintains subsistence hunting and fishing access.”

Murkowski, along with fellow Republicans Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young of Alaska, said the DOI order marks a turning point in the state’s relationship with the agency by allowing Alaska to develop its energy resources as planned decades ago. Under Zinke’s leadership, “I believe Alaska no longer has an adversary in the Department of Interior, but a willing partner,” Young said.

“I applaud Secretary Zinke’s order to responsibly evaluate how best to realize the development potential of Alaska’s vast energy resources in the NPR-A and 1002 Area,” Sullivan said. Through the order, the Trump administration “will allow the country to finally deliver on the promised energy security and abundance we had in mind when Congress set these lands aside for future exploration and development,” Sullivan said.

By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com

 

This article appears as published in The Foster Report No. 3151, issued June 2, 2017

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