| ANCHORAGE, Alaska
ANCHORAGE, Alaska Aug 13 The Department of
Interior on Monday proposed a mixture of new oil and gas
development and environmental protections in a vast swathe of
The department said its preferred alternative for managing
the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska calls for about half of
the Indiana-sized land unit to be opened to oil and gas leasing.
Other areas important to polar bears, seals, migratory birds and
other wildlife would be protected from development.
The proposed plan was welcomed by environmental activists
but drilling supporters said they were unhappy.
"What we want to do is make sure that we don't mess it up,"
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said at an Anchorage news
The 11.8 million acres that would be available for leasing
hold an estimated 549 million barrels of economically
recoverable oil and 8.7 trillion cubic feet of economically
recoverable natural gas, according to the Department of
It also allows for a pipeline to cross the reserve - even in
designated protected areas - should commercial quantities of oil
be discovered in offshore areas of the Chukchi Sea, Salazar
said. Oil from the Chukchi would have to be transported overland
to the Trans Alaska Pipeline System, he said. No pipeline route
is selected, and details about a pipeline would be subject to
future analysis, he said.
Selection of a preferred alternative comes nearly four
months after the BLM issued a draft management plan for the
petroleum reserve. The draft plan was the first document issued
by any government agency to outline a management strategy for
the entire 23 million acre reserve, Salazar said. A final plan
is expected to be issued later this year, he said.
The reserve was established in 1923 by President Warren
Harding. It was intended as a source of petroleum for the
nation's military forces. Exploration efforts there date back to
the 1940s, but there has never been any commercial production
from the vast land unit.
However, there have been recent oil discoveries in the
northeastern section of the reserve, the area closest to
existing oilfield infrastructure.
ConocoPhillips and partner Anadarko Petroleum
are planning development of a field called CD-5 that
would provide the first-ever commercial production of oil from
The preferred alternative does not specify a leasing
schedule. However, at the direction of President Obama, the
Bureau of Land Management last year launched a program of annual
lease sales in the northeastern portion of the reserve,
considered the most feasible for development in the near future.
Last year's lease sale drew $3.6 million, much of that from
ConocoPhillips, which has been the most active company in the
reserve. The BLM plans another lease sale in November.
Environmentalists hailed the Interior's choice of a
preferred management alternative.
"The secretary's proposed action is an important step in the
right direction for all Americans, including Alaska Natives,
sportsmen, and other conservationists who want to balance energy
exploration with wildlife protection in Alaska's spectacular
western Arctic," said Ken Rait, director of Pew's Western Lands
Drilling supporters said they were unhappy.
"Today, the Obama administration picked the most restrictive
management plan possible," Senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska
Republican, said in a statement. The plan would put "half of the
petroleum reserve off limits," she said.
"This decision denies U.S. taxpayers both revenue and jobs
at a time when our nation faces record debt and chronic
unemployment," she said.