RDC NEWS DIGEST
ASRC to intervene in polar bear lawsuit
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC) filed a request to intervene in the polar bear lawsuit pending in the U.S. District Court of Northern California. ASRC said action taken by environmental groups could circumvent the legislative process and appears to be an effort to address climate change through restriction of arctic activities which have not caused climate change or had a measurable effect on polar bears.
ASRC said federal listing of the bear and litigation could be focused on Alaska Natives whose activities do not threaten bear populations. It warned the lawsuit could have a dire effect on every resource and economic development project on the North Slope and could impact the rest of the country in a variety of ways.
NPRA oil and gas lease sale this fall
In a Record of Decision (ROD) issued in July, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it will make land available for oil and gas leasing in the northeast portion of the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPRA). “This action sets the stage for a major lease sale this fall,” said Stephen Allred, Assistant Secretary for Lands and Minerals.
The lands to be made available for leasing under plans for the northeast and northwest areas of the petroleum reserve could result in as much as 8.4 billion barrels of oil being developed. The lands could also provide trillions of cubic feet of natural gas for shipment to North American markets through gas pipelines now in the planning stages.
“This decision provides for the protection of high value wildlife, including waterfowl and caribou, and meets subsistence needs of North Slope residents while making lands with oil and gas potential available for leasing,” said BLM Alaska State Director Tom Lonnie.
The plan includes protection of polar bears, including requirements to consider impacts on areas used by polar bears for denning. Additionally, with the listing of the polar bear the agency will continue to work closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on future oil and gas activities. The ROD defers from leasing for 10 years potentially oil-rich land north and east of Teshekpuk Lake, on an area that has large populations of waterfowl and caribou. The North Slope Borough supported the deferral and the ROD, which will allow lease sales to move forward.
Public's energy views changing
High gasoline and energy prices are dramatically changing Americans’ views on energy and the environment, according to a recent survey.The number of people who now view oil drilling and the construction of new power plants as a greater priority than conservation has risen sharply this year.
A poll released in July by the Pew Research Center shows nearly half of those surveyed now rate energy exploration and new power plants as the top priority, compared to 35 percent five months earlier. The number of people who consider increasing energy supplies more important than protecting the environment increased from 54 percent in February to 60 percent in June.Those favoring oil drilling in ANWR increased to 50 percent from 42 percent in February.
EPA seeks comments on NPDES program
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking comments from the public as it considers approval of an application made by the State of Alaska to assume primacy from the EPA to regulate the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits in Alaska waters.
The Alaska Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (APDES) application includes an implementation plan that transfers the administration of the program from EPA to the State over a three-year period. If approved, the State will administer the program, subject to continuing EPA oversight and enforcement authority.
Alaska is one of five states that has not assumed primacy on NPDES permits. RDC encourages its members to submit comments by August 18 in support of the APDES program. Please see the RDC Action Alert on this issue at www.akrdc.org.
Supreme Court to review Kensington ruling
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision relating to the Kensington tailings permit.
The announcement came after the State of Alaska, Coeur Alaska and RDC filed petitions asking the high court to review the Ninth Circuit decision which overturned a lower court decision and invalidated the Kensington tailings Section 404 permit under the Clean Water Act. The State, Coeur and RDC argued that the appeals court erred in its ruling against the permit. They are asking the high court to support the validity of the earlier issued permit for the tailings facility.
All the main surface facilities at Kensington gold mine are complete except the tailings facility. Coeur’s focus is to move the gold deposit into production. Kensington is located 45 miles northwest of Juneau.
A final Supreme Court decision or completion of alternative permitting plans may allow for construction to take place next year, leading to potential production in late 2009. Kensington is expected to produce 140,000 ounces of gold annually and has an initial mine life of ten years, based on current reserves.
BP sanctions Libery development
BP has sanctioned development of its Liberty oil prospect in the Beaufort Sea. The $1.5 billion project entails drilling six ultraextended reach development wells from existing near-shore facilities at Endicott Island to the Liberty reservoir, five miles offshore in federal waters.
By using Endicott Island and infrastructure already in place there, BP will be able to produce Liberty without building a remote offshore island and pipeline. First production from Liberty is expected in 2011. BP expects to recover about 100 million barrels of oil from Liberty at 15,000 barrels per day initially. Production is expected to peak at 40,000 barrels per day.
Liberty is a small field relative to Prudhoe Bay, Kuparuk and Alpine. However, with major fields in decline and overall North Slope production falling to 722,000 barrels in 2007, the development of smaller and less expensive fields is needed to slow the decline in overall production.
Liberty’s ultra-extended reach wells will be the longest in the world, stretching six to eight miles to the east of Endicott to tap the Liberty reservoir. The project will expand the life of Endicott, a 21-year old field that is producing only a tenth of its peak production.
Mineral extraction at Spencer Glacier
RDC is supporting mineral extraction from the Spencer Glacier area in the Chugach National Forest.
The site contains high quality deposits of both quarry rock and gravel aggregate that are in high demand in Southcentral Alaska. The site is located adjacent to the Alaska Railroad and has provided these materials for nearly 100 years.
RDC considers extraction of minerals as an appropriate multiple use in an area where both recreation and mining has historically occurred in a compatible fashion. This area is not new to development, having been a quarry since the early 1900s. The Chugach National Forest Revised Land and Resource Management Plan established direction to manage this area in a manner that facilitates both recreation development and mining activities. RDC agrees with the Forest Service that mineral extraction can occur in this area in a way that is compatible with recreational uses.
While RDC strongly supports mineral extraction in a responsible manner from the Spencer Glacier area, it is encouraging holders of existing mining claims, the Forest Service and any future mineral extraction operator to reach a cooperative agreement that will facilitate resource protection. In comments to the Forest Service, RDC said coordination with existing mining claims can occur so as to mitigate potential conflicts and impacts.
In its comments, RDC endorsed the proposed Forest Service action alternative, but proposed several modifications to improve the economics of future mining in the area. View these comments here.
RDC supports OCS lease sale
RDC recently submitted comments to the U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) supporting Lease Sale 214 in the North Aleutian Basin Planning Area.
Given the threat rising energy prices pose to America’s economy and the lifestyles of its citizens, RDC said it is imperative that expanded access to federal waters occurs to ensure adequate supplies of oil and gas to U.S. consumers.
While RDC supports a lease sale in the North Aleutian Basin, it emphasized that leasing should move forward only after proper local stakeholder consultation, planning, and environmental analysis is undertaken. RDC noted that any leasing plan should consider conflict avoidance measures to minimize impacts to other resource industries and subsistence harvesters. Reasonable stipulations to protect scientifically-verified, environmentally-sensitive areas should be incorporated into the plan. Final plans should ensure industry’s footprint is minimized and that biological resources, traditional lifestyles and the environment are protected.
In its comments, RDC said it is confident offshore leasing, exploration, development and production can occur without significant impacts to the environment and other resource users. It noted the oil and gas industry in Alaska and elsewhere has proven its ability to produce energy in an environmentally-safe and efficient manner. OCS development has an outstanding safety and environmental record spanning decades. Development has coexisted
with other industries, including fishing, in the North Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and Cook Inlet. The National Academy of Science has determined that less than one percent of all oil entering the seas is from drilling and exploration activities.
MMS has funded nearly $300 million for environmental studies related to the Alaska OCS. Since 2000, it has had 30 to 40 active environmental studies each year offshore Alaska, totaling over $45 million. Eleven more studies have been commissioned this year and work is underway to adapt an ice-ocean circulation model of the Bering Sea to the specific oceanographic conditions within Bristol Bay. This study will aid in determining necessary actions to protect the area.
Currently 86 percent of the American OCS is off limits to development. Yet most of the nation’s oil and gas is located in federal waters.
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