Parnell Plans Aggressive Push for ANWR and APR-A Development

Governor Parnell announced plans on Thursday to aggressively push oil development on state lands and waters including areas next to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska. In October the state will offer lease sales on 14.7 million acres in the Beaufort Sea and on the North Slope and North Slope foothills. Parnell made his announcement by video-conference to reporters gathered at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington D.C.

Parnell claims the state can move faster than the federal government, and he wants to see leases in areas like the Beaufort Sea’s waters right next to the controversial and off-limits coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.

The state’s Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan was in D.C. in person, and responded to a reporter’s question of whether the state’s move is a “shot across the bow,” intended to rile up the federal government.

Sullivan says oil companies which drill in state areas could likely reach oil lying beneath ANWR or NPR-A. He says the state reads that to be legal because of the Law of Capture.

Sullivan says directional or sideways drilling into non-state areas would not be allowed.

The three-mile zone next to the Arctic Refuge has been leased before, but none are active and there’s been little development.  Officials said Thursday that back in the 1990s, Conoco drilled a commercial well but didn’t use it to produce.

Sullivan and the Governor say they’re optimistic oil companies will be interested in fresh state leases, but it remains to be seen. ConocoPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman says the company doesn’t generally comment on lease sales.

State officials say they’ll keep parts of the Beaufort Sea off limits to protect the Bowhead whales’ migration and calving grounds. Harold Curran, with the North Slope Borough, says he appreciates that. He says in general, the Borough favors onshore drilling over offshore. But he says offshore drilling in state waters is better than offshore in federal waters because it increase the borough’s tax base and is better for the environment:

But environmental groups say there’s no proven technology to clean up an oil spill in icy waters.  The Arctic Program Director with the Wilderness Society, Lois Epstein says there are still too many unknowns about drilling in the Arctic waters, whether it’s state territory or not.

Governor Parnell and DNR Commissioner Sullivan say pushing the lease sales is part of Parnell’s strategy to get more oil in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.

Photo by Libby Casey, APRN – Anchorage: Karen Harbert, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, and Alaska Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan speak to reporters in Washington, D.C. Thursday about the state’s plan to aggressively promote oil leases in state lands and waters.

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lcasey (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | About Libby

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