5-25-12 - Alaskans 'Rocked' At Last Night's BLM Hearing!
Alaskans Rocked At Last Night's BLM Hearing!
Last night, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) held a hearing in Anchorage to gather comment on its Draft Integrated Activity Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (IAP/EIS) for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). The Interior Department agency proposed four alternative approaches to managing NPR-A. As many as a hundred had gathered in the Science Center of the BLM's Campbell Creek facility to listen or testify. Twenty-one Alaskans enthusiastically supported oil and gas leasing of the nation's oil and gas reserve ("Alternative #4") while nine witnesses argued for restrictions on oil, gas, mineral and pipeline activity within the oil and gas designated reserve ("Alternative #2"). (Note: see more event photos below, balance to be uploaded by C.O.B. 5-31-12)
Putting size into context:
Alaska is twice as big as Texas, but with a population about like Dallas.
The NPR-A is a Maine-sized area that lies on the northern coast of Alaska.
The Obama Administration is also determining how best to block oil and gas access to a 2,000 acre oil and gas exploration area (i.e. about the size of Dulles Airport) within a Congressionally-designated oil and gas area (i.e. "1002 area") that itself lies within the 19 million acre area.
This Dulles Airport-sized oil and gas area lies within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which is about, the size of South Carolina.
The North Slope Borough, seat of local government for northern Alaska, is the largest local government in the country and embraces these state-sized areas with a population of less than 10,000.
Producing oil from these areas will have little effect on the environment and some of that effect is very positive--as the Prudhoe Bay experience has shown with a multiplying caribou herd and diminished calf mortality.
While BLM's Alaska director, Bud Cribley (NGP Photo), was present, Arctic Field Office Manager Lon Kelly (NGP Photo) provided the opening briefing. Overall, we believe this was the most professionally conducted Federal hearing we've seen in this state for some time. Kelly and his colleagues urged witnesses to stay within a 3 minute time limit and enforced the schedule with a discrete, electronic 'bell'. Witnesses were called in the order they signed the list. This process is in sharp contrast to other Department of Interior agency hearings over the last few years when certain witnesses exceeded a three or five minute 'limit' by as much as twenty minutes; when facilitators let audience agitators push them into allowing witnesses to speak out of turn; and, when comment periods were extended when pro development viewpoints appeared to dominate anti development voices.
As near as we can remember with help from Carl Portman of the Resource Development Council from Alaska (RDC), the following individuals testified, among others: Steve Pratt, CEA-AK (NGP Photo-L), Ed Fogels, DNR (NGP Photo-below); Maynard Tapp); Jim Arlington, Linc Energy; Dave Harbour; Kara Moriarty, AOGA (NGP Photo-L); Carl Portman, RDC; Richard
Garrard (NGP Photo below), Petroleum Geoscientist; Jeff Landfield (Legislative Candidate); Rocky Dippel; Ben Mohr; Katherine Hicks; State Senator Cathy Giessel; State Representative Lance Pruitt; Lorali Simon; Joe Liska, NANA; Jeff Turner, State Representative Charisse Millett’s office; Pauline Ruddy, Shell; Brent Senette, CH2M HILL; Anand Dubey, Legislative Candidate; Mary Barr; David Brown, ConocoPhillips (NGP Photo-below).
While we appreciated the process, some of Kelly's observations seemed to indicate an agency bias against petroleum development within the Petroleum Reserve. In his opening, he indicated that "new insights" required analysis, including air quality modeling, climate change and blowing dust from China. To a non-scientist, this looks much like a pretext for a full-employment program for programmers, botanists, biologists, climatologists, university staff and government bureaucrats.
|See Wesley Loy's Petroleum News report of the hearing here.|
He said he was concerned about a duck hen with a brood of chicks getting run over on an elevated gravel pad. I did not laugh but made a mental note of the scores of times I'd seen slow moving traffic at Prudhoe bay stop to let caribou or birds traverse the roadway--unlike Anchorage where dozens of waterfowl and scores of moose are killed every year on our more civilized roads, 800 miles south of the Petroleum Reserve.
Kelly said he wanted to "consider" United States Geological Survey (USGS) oil and gas estimates that have been substantially reduced. In my testimony later, I pointed out that estimates were relatively meaningless without exploration and drilling (Also, see Richard Girrard's testimony, below). I tried to describe why alternative #4 should be employed to reasonably determine what resources were in the area. If a bureaucrat says, "I need to consider USGS' reduced estimates," that is a pretty good indication that the agency wants to say, "Why lease the area when nothing's there." It is an argument the environmental armies use all the time, most notably in opposing development on 2,000 of ANWR's 19 million acres. Logically, if there is little or nothing to be found, few bidders will want leases and few leases will be acted upon. If no oil is present, no development will occur. The argument that an area shouldn't be leased because government estimates of petroleum volume are low, therefore, is not logical and is specious. Kelly also said that "certain areas" of the Petroleum Reserve are thought to have little oil and gas. That sentiment seems like another pretext for deciding later not to lease certain areas and to move in favor of low development alternatives.
Kelly concluded by noting that the comments from hearings would be complied by July 6 and a final EIS produced by November 16, followed by Secretarial approval on December 17. (On 5/30/12 BLM's Bridget Psarianos emailed hearing participants that the comment period has been extended to June 15. We hope that extension is motivated more by a desire to honestly obtain more valuable testimony, and not to provide environmental activists more time to order seminar writers throughout the country to pad the record with 'do not develop petroleum in the petroleum reserve' letters. Pardon us for this suspicion but based on this Administration's treatment of Alaska natural resources issues for the last nearly four years, we have significant justification for our suspicions. We further note that a final action restricting petroleum related access to significant portions of the nation's Petroleum Reserve could occur weeks before a new Administration gained control of the White House.)
Your writer asked Kelly about buffers along the coast, showing on his maps. Citizens should be concerned that even if all of the Petroleum Reserve were available for Petroleum leasing and exploration, any banning of activity around the borders of the Reserve could prevent a pipeline accessing new producing areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas from directly and efficiently connecting to the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). His answer confirmed the presence of buffer zones on the Petroleum Reserve's northern coast.
In other testimony:
- Pauline Ruddy (NGP Photo) testified that: "Although several options exist for transporting oil and gas from the Chukchi Sea OCS to market, the preferred alternative is a pipeline from the Chukchi Sea to shore and then across the North Slope to the Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS). The management of the NPR-A, which encompasses much of the North Slope, is therefore of great importance, and could affect and/or potentially prevent the transportation of oil and gas resources to market through TAPS. Although the “Purpose and Need” section of the draft EIS states that one of its purposes is to ensure that BLM’s land management practices in the NPR-A will provide the opportunity to construct the necessary pipelines and support structures to bring Chukchi Sea oil and gas resources to TAPS, it provides no description or analysis of such an event. Additionally three of the four proposed Alternatives have significant restrictions in the form of Special Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, stipulations, required operating procedures (ROPs), and best management practices (BMPs), and limits on non-subsistence infrastructure that could greatly impact Chukchi Sea leaseholder’s ability to permit and construct a pipeline across NPR-A to TAPS. I want to stress that the proposals in Alternative B would essentially prohibit development of a pipeline to transfer hydrocarbons to TAPS, and Alternatives A and C could also greatly restrict options for a viable transportation route. Alternative D as assessed would have more allowances for a multiuse of the NPRA and better accommodate the critical infrastructure to bring much needed oil to TAPS. Ruddy Testimony.
- Jeff Landfield (NGP Photo) said the benefits of resource development included an economic multiplier effect.
- Maynard Tapp (NGP Photo) said, "NPR-A should be made available for oil and gas exploration and development for the following reasons: The United States is in a vulnerable position related to world energy consumption. Oil imports have risen by 20% over the last few years. At the same time U.S. oil production has declined by 14-16%. We continue to import over 59% of our oil. Where and what is our energy policy? Opposition to oil and gas exploration and production here in Alaska impacts jobs in Alaska, and in the Lower 48. It is also a threat to our nation’s security." (Tapp Testimony)
- Though out of the room when called to speak, Katherine Hicks said, "I think that Alternative D is the only choice for Alaska, unless the Federal Government and BLM would chose to return the NPR-A to Alaska and let us run it as we know it should be run. This would enable us to supply energy to our state and others, keep TAPS running and help to reduce the debt that our government has run up."... I urge the BLM to adopt Alternative D and would add that you also allow us to drill, mine and take advantage of the bounty God blessed this country with."
- Richard Garrard testified (NGP Photo), "So what can be done in the NPR-A to stimulate renewed exploration and for Alaska to reap the benefits of urgently needed new production? Firstly, open-up the most prospective areas to responsible exploration while protecting the environment through sensible regulation. Secondly, the BLM must think and plan beyond just conducting ever diminishing lease sales by thinking production and what is required to commercially enable current and future discoveries to deliver their products to TAPS. “Alternative D” is the only option that will allow this to happen and in the best interest of both the State of Alaska and the Nation this must be adopted." (Garrard Testimony)
- Speaking for Alaska Representative Charisse Millett, Jeff Turner testified that: "THE NATIONAL PETROLEUM RESERVE ALASKA WAS CREATED SPECIFICALLY FOR OIL AND GAS DEVELOPMENT. THAT IS WHY REPRESENTATIVE MILLETT SUPPORTS ALTERNATIVE D IN THE BLM’S DRAFT INTEGRATED ACTIVITY PLAN AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT. FIRST OF ALL… ALTERNATIVE D RECOGNIZES WHY THE RESERVE WAS CREATED IN THE FIRST PLACE. OPENING THE ENTIRE REFUGE TO PETROLEUM EXPLORATION, ALONG WITH EXPLORATION IN THE CHUKCHI SEA CAN USHER IN A NEW ERA OF NORTH SLOPE OIL PRODUCTION. THROUGHPUT IN THE TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE SYSTEM IS NOW 600,00 BARRELS A DAY, DOWN FROM TWO MILLION A DAY… AND THERE ARE NO NEW FIELDS COMING ON LINE THAT CAN REVERSE THAT DECLINE CURVE. (Turner Testimony)
- RDC's Carl Portman said, "Given NPR-A is a petroleum reserve, BLM should manage the area in a manner that facilities oil and gas production and the development of vital infrastructure for both onshore and offshore development. The significant enlargement of Special Areas and proposed Wild and Scenic River designations, as recommended in Alternative B, could affect the ability of onshore and offshore operators in federal and state waters to lease areas for development, as well as build and operate infrastructure necessary to transport oil and gas in an efficient manner to market. In addition, such designations would likely diminish the potential recovery of much needed energy resources for Alaska and the nation. Alaska and the federal government have already designated significant portions of the state for conservation purposes. In fact, Alaska contains 90 percent of all national park lands, more than 80 percent of national wildlife refuge lands, and more than half of all federally-designated Wilderness. The Special Areas proposed for NPR-A are essentially de-facto wilderness that could block exploration of some of the most prospective areas of the energy reserve or its Special Areas." (Portman Testimony)
- Jim Arlington testified, "Under the provisions of the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976 (“NPRPA”), the Secretary of the Interior is required to conduct oil and gas leasing AND provide for the oil and gas development within the NPR-A. While the Secretary is also required to manage all activities within the petroleum reserve and promulgate regulations that appropriately protect the “environment, fish and wildlife, historical and scenic values”, this does not mean that these values are to be protected at the expense of oil and gas development." (Arlington Testimony)
In our own testimony, we urged the BLM leadership to more forcefully execute and advocate its mission to responsibly develop NPR-A. We urged the agency, as it approached its final drafting process, to incorporate socio-economic effects on Alaska and the nation of restricting petroleum exploration and development within the Nation's petroleum reserve. We urged BLM to subsume into its record the extensive studies of Alaskan Arctic Gas Study Company, summarized in its 40 volume "Biological Report Series" submitted to the Secretary of Interior in the mid 1970s. We noted that extensive studies demonstrated the compatibility of reasonable development with summer migratory species. We noted that one of the largest causes of caribou calf mortality was caused by the hoards of mosquitos populating the low-lying marshy areas. In an hour, mosquitos can reduce a sedentary calf to almost skin and bones; this is likely why Mother Nature has equipped calfs to begin running within minutes of birth. We said that the Prudhoe Bay experience has proven that the elevated gravel production pads and roads provide a windy relief from mosquitos and that the caribou population at Prudhoe Bay has sextupled due in large part to the presence of the oil industry. I therefore urged BLM to incorporate the positive experience of Prudhoe Bay into its findings. That experience demonstrates that man's reasonably managed presence on the Slope has resulted in more net benefits to nature than deficits. I would add here that the "entire suite of values" will not have been considered without BLM's incorporating and fully considering the 1) socio-economic effects of restricting NPR-A petroleum activity, 2) the Arctic Gas Biological Report Series, and 3)the Prudhoe Bay experience.
We conclude that Alaskans "rocked" last night: not the paid environmental activists whose living is based on creating controversy and lawsuits, but the many Alaskans (i.e. most are NGP readers) who turned out to defend their way of life and opportunities for their kids. Yes, several were employed directly or indirectly by oil companies. But virtually all were there after hours on their own dime, taking their own time to express a personal viewpoint. We were also impressed that three legislators were represented along with two legislative candidates and Governor Parnell's representative. We only lament that the entire Legislature, many assembly members and mayors and school board members didn't show up to defend petroleum development in Alaska's petroleum reserve at a time with TAPS is 2/3 empty, declining at a 6-7% annual rate.
We also lament that only one political party was represented by all the elected and appointed government officials. Alaskans deserve equal defense of our way of life from both republicans and democrats.
Even so, one can accurately conclude that last night in defense of our way of life, Alaskans Rocked! -dh
(Note: Since our goal is provision of accurate facts and reports, we always invite readers to suggest specific language that corrects any error we might inadvertently make. If editorial criticism is offered, we will often include that upon request. Though our editorial policy strongly supports free enterprise, reasonable and robust exploration and development, we will post both pro- and anti-leasing testimony that witnesses may wish to provide.)
Event Photos will be uploaded here by C.O.B. on 6-01-12.