Friday, June 21, 2013

2nd ANWR push coming; Alaska to apply to Interior for approval of exploration for coastal plain

Wesley Loy
For Petroleum News

Back in May, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell pitched Interior Secretary Sally Jewell a $50 million offer to conduct oil and gas exploration on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

As of June 19, Parnell hadn’t received a response, the governor’s spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, told Petroleum News.

Soon, however, the state will intensify pressure on the federal government by putting forward a follow-up proposal to the Interior Department.

It will take the form of an application for approval of an “exploration plan,” as provided for under a section of ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980.

Alaska’s natural resources commissioner, Dan Sullivan, discussed the forthcoming application during recent testimony before Congress.

Miffed over wilderness alternatives

Parnell, in a May 18 letter to Jewell, proposed a seven-year 3-D seismic acquisition and drilling program for the ANWR coastal plain, which currently is off-limits to oil and gas activity.

The governor pledged to ask state legislators for $50 million to help fund the program.

He offered the proposal essentially as an extra alternative for the Interior Department to consider as it prepares a new “comprehensive conservation plan” for managing ANWR.

State officials were upset that the Interior Department failed to include an oil and gas alternative in a draft of the plan, yet included alternatives to possibly recommend wilderness status for the coastal plain. Such status would need the approval of Congress, and would bar drilling permanently in the 1.5-million-acre area.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Interior Department agency that manages ANWR, is now overdue on finalizing the comprehensive conservation plan.

Terms of ANILCA

The coastal plain is also called the 1002 area, after a section in ANILCA.

In testimony May 22 before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources, Sullivan said the state was “not confident” the Interior Department would adopt the governor’s seismic and drilling proposal as part of the ANWR comprehensive conservation plan.

And so, the state will “directly apply” to the Interior Department for acceptance of an exploration plan, as provided for in Section 1002(e) of ANILCA.

The section is titled “Exploration Plans.”

It says “any person including the United States Geological Survey may submit one or more plans for exploratory activity ... to the Secretary for approval.”

Upon receiving an exploration plan, the secretary “shall promptly publish notice of the application and the text of the plan in the Federal Register and newspapers of general circulation.”

The secretary “shall determine” within 120 days whether the plan can be approved, the section says.

Before making a determination, the secretary “shall hold at least one public hearing in the State for purposes of receiving the comments and views of the public on the plan.”

Forcing the issue

Sullivan told the subcommittee that, if certain criteria are met, the secretary is mandated by law to approve the exploration plan.

He noted the potential for the coastal plain to produce a great deal of oil, as well as many jobs and substantial government revenue.

An updated resource assessment is essential for confirming the area as “a major national asset” for energy, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources indicated to Petroleum News on June 19 that the state would submit its exploration plan in the coming weeks.

Opening the coastal plain to drilling is a long-held economic development goal for Alaska’s elected leaders.

The governor’s efforts to force the issue, however, clearly face tough odds in Congress, and in the Obama administration.

In congressional testimony on June 6, Jewell said: “The president has made it clear that it is not part of his agenda to do oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and I support that position.”

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