What is the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska?
The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is a 23-million-acre area (about
the size of Indiana) located on the North Slope of Alaska. This area
has been managed by the Bureau of Land Management since 1976.
What energy exploration
has taken place in the reserve?
Between 1945 and 1952 the U.S. Navy contracted for 45 core tests and
36 test wells and between 1974 and 1977, it contracted six deep well
Between 1977 and 1981, the U.S. Geological Survey contracted for a number
of seismic lines and exploration wells. In all, 40 test wells and 15,600
miles of seismic data were obtained.
Since the 1999 lease sale, 14 exploration wells have been drilled and
commercial discoveries have been announced. As many as three more wells
will be drilled during the winter of 2003-2004.
Seismic lines have been run somewhere in the reserve every year since
1976, except for 2004.
Has Congress given the
agency any direction on how the reserve is to be managed?
Yes. The Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act of 1976 and the 1980
Interior Department Appropriations Act gave direction to BLM to carry
out "an expeditious program of competitive leasing of oil and gas
Why does BLM have so many
land use plans underway for this area?
Land use plans require significant time, staff, and money. Since industry
was most interested in leasing those areas closest to existing infrastructure,
BLM elected to undertake its land use planning by phases so as to analyze
the areas most likely to be developed first. That was accomplished in
the first Northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska plan completed
BLM has now completed a similar plan for the Northwest National Petroleum
Reserve-Alaska and will begin planning for the Southern National Petroleum
Reserve-Alaska in about a year.
Meanwhile, commercial oil discoveries, the findings from ongoing research,
and the Energy Policy Conservation Act have led to an initiative to
amend the 1998 Northeast National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska plan. Commercial
discoveries have also prompted the development of detailed plan for
the Alpine satellite fields, portions of which overlap the National
How were public comments for the Northwest National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska
Integrated Activity Plan/ Environmental Impact Statement addressed?
BLM's core planning team (5) assigned substantive comments to individual
subject matter specialists on the larger planning team (20) to prepare
responses. The core team and the Solicitor's Office in Anchorage reviewed
The vast majority of the comments (96,000) were a form-letter style
submitted as part of an internet campaign. These, too, were reviewed
by members of the comment analysis team. Each and every comment was
opened and read to see if there was any additional information provided,
then analyzed and categorized.
Substantial comments were received from the State of Alaska, North Slope
Borough, Audubon Society and others.
Why didn't the Environmental
Impact Statement separately analyze the alternatives received from these
After completion of the public meetings on the Draft Plan, members of
the core planning team, resource staff, and management met specifically
to develop the Preferred Alternative. Our starting point was a look
at the proposals submitted by Audubon and others related to a "Wildlife
Habitat Alternative." Resource information submitted by Audubon
was considered consistent with BLM's own information and that submitted
by others, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the State of
Alaska, and the North Slope Borough. Recommendations by Audubon for
new special areas and corresponding restrictions were evaluated in light
of our oil and gas resource information. While it was felt some proposals
were too restrictive, especially in the high prospective area in northeast
portion of the Planning Area, it was also felt that the Preferred Alternative
must look carefully at protections for the Pacific black brandt, spectacled
and Steller's eiders, yellow-billed loons, peregrine falcons, caribou,
and the coastal bays and lagoons. Also protections must in some cases
be fairly prescriptive and quantitatively defined (e.g., 1/2-mile setbacks
on rivers). As discussions proceeded and additional information and
input were received, the Preferred Alternative evolved. BLM believes
the end result is a balanced and environmentally responsible alternative.
What protections will
be provided by the Record of Decision?
How does leasing in the
petroleum reserve tie in with the President's National Energy Plan?
The production of oil and gas resources within the National Petroleum
Reserve-Alaska could make a valuable contribution to the domestic production
portion of the stream by offsetting declines in production from Prudhoe
Bay, using the existing TAPS pipeline and tanker transportation and
distribution system. The National Energy Plan specifically recommends
that "the Secretary of the Interior consider additional environmentally
responsible oil and gas development, based on sound science and the
best available technology, through further lease sales in the National
What happens next?
BLM will develop a Record of Decision documenting any changes in the
preferred alternative. Current plans call for it to be signed by the
Secretary on January 21 so that BLM can hold a lease sale in early June.
Can people protest the
Record of Decision?
No. Since the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska is a designated petroleum
reserve, it is exempt from the BLM's regulations covering resource management
plans. There is no protest period and since the Record of Decision is
being signed by the Secretary, it is final until such time as the plan
What about another lease
BLM asked industry for expressions of interest at the start of the planning
effort and will give industry a second opportunity to add or amend any
previous information submitted to the agency following the signing of
the Record of Decision. BLM will evaluate responses and develop bid
packets in time to hold a lease sale June 2, 2004.
How much oil is there?
The US Geological Survey issued a new report in 2002 that significantly
revised hydrocarbon estimates upwards. The agency now estimates that
the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska has between 5.9 to 13.2 billion
barrels of technically-recoverable oil on the federal lands in the National
Petroleum Reserve-Alaska with a mean estimate of 9.3 billion barrels.
Assuming price levels of $22 to $30 per barrel, there are an estimated
1.3 to 5.6 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil, an amount
equal to what we import from Saudi Arabia in 3 to 6 years.
What about natural gas?
Although there are significant reserves of natural gas in the petroleum
reserve, currently there is no way to get this gas to market. However,
there is potential to make this resource available to local communities
as a lower cost energy alternative. For example, the village of Nuiqsut
worked out an agreement with ConocoPhillips to obtain natural gas from
the nearby Alpine production facility. Depending on the location of
future development, villages such as Barrow, Atqasuk and Wainwright
may also benefit from small-scale developments.