An advocacy group for Alaska’s oil industry says it is still sifting through the details of a complex draft plan released recently outlining how the Bureau of Land Management might approach developing new areas in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. 

Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, says the group is focused on making sure whatever plans come out of the draft environmental impact statement the BLM put together on the NPR-A are practical when it comes to tailoring drilling projects to Alaska’s unique geography and economy. 

“It is a very technical document — as it should be — and we are working our way through it,” Moriarty said. “I think it will be very important that whatever lease stipulations and best management practices that a new (Integrated Activity Plan) might have really need to be practical and tailored in a way to accomplish what its intended to do.” 

Moriarty noted that federal agencies sometimes have the best intentions but “can be too prescriptive.” 

“We’re still reviewing to make sure the new IAP accomplishes that from a practical stance,” Moriarty said. “I think its important to recognize that Congress established the NRP-A to have an expeditious leasing program. We’re glad to see there’s a new IAP being proposed, but we just have to make sure that the stipulations and management practices will actually be practical.”

In a number of planning periods throughout the years, development in certain areas of the NPR-A has come with controversy, specifically regarding drilling near the currently-protected Teshekpuk Lake wetlands area. 

While AOGA has not taken any positions on the draft EIS yet, Moriarty says she hopes there can be a balance between reasonable protections for those areas and development. 

“Clearly we certainly want to see the most sensitive areas protected. I do think if you go back to the comments under the current IAP, we believe there could be some inclusions that might not qualify for very sensitive habitat,” Moriarty said. “We certainly appreciate that there needs to be some protections for the most sensitive areas, but we’re still weighing through the different options to see how it’s addressed and what it actually means when we go try and operate and go explore.”

Exploration has been ongoing in areas of the NPR-A in accordance with a 2013 Integrated Activity Plan created under former President Barack Obama, in which a larger portion of Teshekpuk Lake was protected. 

The BLM held its annual lease sales for portions of the NPR-A last week –– sales that fell under the 2013 IAP regulations. After the new draft EIS being discussed is approved, the new IAP will supersede past regulations, and all future lease sales would be required to fall under new regulations. 

Members of the environmental protection community have spoken out with concern over recent sales and what they see as a rushed draft EIS process.

“Bidding in this year’s NRP-A lease sale, where valuable public land was leased at barely more than $11 an acre, reinforces the fact that exposing America’s Arctic to oil development is about fulfilling an administration talking point and not meeting actual, real-world demand,” said Kristen Miller, with Alaska Wilderness League. “We shouldn’t be looking to exploit untouched wild places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, crucial to wildlife and the continued health of Indigenous communities, to new drilling. There is too much at risk and no demonstrated need.” 

The BLM has put forward four plans for consideration.

A “no change” plan is required to be included in the list of four alternative plans. This would maintain an Obama-era ruling that limited the region to 11.8 million acres for development.

Alternative B would decrease the amount of land available to develop and would designate special areas in the region unavailable. 

Alternative C would increase the amount of land available to 17.1 million acres and maintain the area surround Teshekpuk Lake as unavailable. 

Alternative D would increase the land available for development to 18.3 million acres and would open the entire Teshekpuk Lake and Utukok River Uplands areas for development. 

In 2017, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that the area held 8.7 billion barrels of oil.

The BLM is hosting a series of public meetings across the state that began Dec. 10 in Point Lay. The Fairbanks public meeting will from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday at the Morris Thompson Center. 

Written comment on the draft EIS can also be submitted to bit.ly/36C9lVn or by mail: Attention: NPR-A IAP/ EIS; Bureau of Land Management; 222 West 7th Ave., Stop #13; Anchorage, AK 99513-7504

The public comment period ends Jan. 21.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.