Monday, August 13, 2012

Murkowski slams NPR-A plan, conservation groups pleased

Tim Bradner
Alaska Journal of Commerce

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Aug. 13 he has chosen a preferred alternative for a land management plan for the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve, although details of the plan remain sketchy.

The newly-proposed “Alternative B-2” management plan would open 11 million acres of the reserve to oil and gas leasing but would also place 13 million acres in special conservation areas, Salazar said. A pipeline crossing of a special use area or other industry activity is not prohibited, he said, but will be subject to special stipulations to protect the uses of the special areas.

“Our plan will not foreclose a pipeline, but when one is proposed it will have to go through the full regulatory process including an environmental impact statement,” the Secretary said.

The Interior Department has been considering several alternatives for managing the reserve, one an Alternative A continues the status quo; a second, more environmentally restrictive Alternative B that establishes large special conservation areas; an Alternative C that is less restrictive, and an Alternative D that essentially opens all of the reserve to oil and gas development.

Until Monday the department had not selected a preferred alternative. The new B-2 plan is now the preferred one, Salazar said. It combines elements of the other plans, but Salazar did not provide details Monday.

The preferred alternative will now be incorporated into a final environmental impact statement for the NPR-A. Salazar’s final approval of the EIS is expected in December, U.S. Bureau of Land Management Director Bud Mike Pool said at the briefing.

“In the next few weeks we will be meeting with the state of Alaska, the North Slope Borough and other concerned Alaska stakeholders to go through the details,” Salazar said.

A major concern for the state and Shell Oil, which plans exploration drilling in the Chukchi Sea, is whether the new management plan will create difficulties in securing a pipeline right-of-way across the reserve.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski was quick to criticize the plan.

“The administration has picked the most restrictive management plan possible. The environmentally-sensitive Teshepuk Lake area was already under a 10-year deferral for additional study, but this (new) alternative goes vastly beyond that, putting half the petroleum reserve off limits. The decision denies U.S. taxpayers both revenue and jobs at a time when our nation faces record debt and unemployment,” Murkowski said in a statement.

Conservation groups praised the alternative, however.

“If adopted, the preferred management strategy would protect the calving grounds of the Teshepuk Lake and Western Arctic caribou herds,” the Wilderness Society said in a statement issued Monday. “Essential nesting habitat for thousands of shorebirds, molting habitat for geese, and coastlines used for walrus haul-outs and polar bear dens would not be developed under this plan.”

The Audubon Society voiced similar sentiments.

“The Secretary’s plan shows that Americans can protect nature even on lands designated for energy production. It would be a great victory for birds, wildlife and common sense,” Audubon president David Yarnold said in the statement.

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