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Chapter 14: Western Alaska



Introduction

Physical Description: Western Alaska is bounded by Yakutat Bay on the south, the Beaufort Sea on the north, the Bering Sea on the west, and the Canadian border on the east. The landscapes of western Alaska are very diverse, ranging from: the rugged fjords of Prince William Sound; to the rolling, treeless terrain of the Bering Sea coast; to the vast taiga muskeg of the interior; to the flat expanse of the Arctic coastal plain.

From the coast of the Beaufort Sea south to the foothills of the Brooks Range lies the Arctic or North Slope, which is a broad, flat, coastal plain dotted with innumerable lakes and characterized by treeless tundra underlain by a continuous layer of permafrost. The Arctic coastal plain is separated from the Yukon River basin to the south by the Brooks Range, a rugged mountain chain with peaks exceeding 6,000 feet and passes as high as 2,500 feet.

The interior region of western Alaska is a plateau that is cleft by three, major river valleys. This plateau reaches southward to the Alaska Range with summits varying from 10-20 thousand feet. West of the Alaska Range is the Aleutian Island chain, a wind-swept series of treeless volcanic islands that extends to the international dateline. The southern coast of western Alaska is a rugged mosaic of mountains, glaciers, ice fields, and fjords.

Distinctive Characteristics: Western Alaska

  • Contains the 19,624,348-acre Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most significant waterfowl breeding areas in North America;
  • Contains the Nation's largest National Park: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, which is almost six times larger than Yellowstone National Park;
  • Has 17 of the Nation's 20 tallest mountain peaks, including Denali (Mt. McKinley), North America's tallest mountain;
  • Has a coastline longer than that of the conterminous United States;
  • Has enough glaciers to cover an area about half the size of New England;
  • Includes Izembek Lagoon, which contains 84,000 acres of eelgrass beds, one of the largest eelgrass beds in the world.

Original Acreage: About 47 percent of an estimated 355 million acres of lands in western Alaska is classified as wetlands.

Current Acreage: Less than one percent of the wetlands in western Alaska have been lost as a direct result of oil and gas activities and mining.

Trends: About 30,000 acres of wetlands in western Alaska have been converted by oil and gas activities (18 percent of the total losses in the region). Approximately two-thirds of these losses have occurred on the Arctic coastal plain. In addition, oil and gas activities on the Arctic coastal plain have degraded wetland quality through a variety of secondary effects, such as flooding and thermal erosion of permafrost. In some areas of the Arctic coastal plain, secondary effects of oil and gas activities cover more than twice the acreage directly affected by fill material. Additional and similar impacts to the Arctic coastal plain can be expected if oil and gas exploration and development occurs in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Mining activities have converted about 14,500 acres of wetlands in western Alaska (8 percent of the losses). Placer mining accounts for a majority of these losses. About 75 percent of these conversions have occurred in the interior region of western Alaska. In addition to direct effects on wetlands, mining activity in western Alaska degrades wetlands through secondary effects on hydrology and water quality.

Factors Adversely Affecting Wetlands

Wetlands losses throughout Alaska result from development in five major sectors: (1) transportation systems, including roads, pipelines, airports and harbors, (2) urban development near major population centers, (3) oil and gas development on the North Slope,1 (4) placer mining in Interior Alaska, and (5) forestry in Southeastern Alaska. This report addresses the latter three items. Forestry is addressed in the previous chapter; oil and gas development and placer mining are treated here.

More than 750 exploratory oil and gas wells have been drilled in Alaska. The only commercially recoverable finds currently operating are on the North Slope and the Cook Inlet-Kenai Peninsula areas. (See Figure XIV-1.) Both of these areas have substantial wetland acreage associated with the oil and gas activity.

Figure XIV-1: PETROLEUM DEVELOPMENT IN WESTERN ALASKA
PETROLEUM DEVELOPMENT IN WESTERN ALASKA

Oil and gas exploration and development in wetland areas have significant impacts, particularly in Arctic regions where vegetative recovery is slow. The effects of oil and gas activities on wetlands differ between the exploration phase and the development phase.

The exploration phase of oil and gas operations usually results in little surface disturbance. Initial stages of geophysical reconnaissance are supported by helicopter personnel and only require small, temporary camps. Subsequent seismic surveying causes greater disturbance from overland transportation of equipment and personnel. Tundra wetlands can be affected by seismic survey or transportation corridors, particularly if activities occur when the tundra is not completely frozen.

Exploratory drilling, the final stage of exploration, can involve considerable surface disturbance, including: construction of drilling sites, camp sites, and airstrips; overland transport of equipment and personnel to drilling sites; and gravel mining. Transporting heavy equipment to drilling sites can cause removal or compaction of tundra, which in turn can cause thawing of permafrost and subsidence of the terrain. The combination of thermal erosion (thermokarst) and hydraulic erosion over longer periods of time can create further slumping or gullies and ravines. Using ice to construct exploratory drill pads and roads, although less damaging than using gravel, can require up to 15 million gallons of water and can drain tundra ponds and streams.

Petroleum development on the Arctic coastal plain results in much more extensive disturbance of wetlands, because it requires fill material (usually gravel) to construct an infrastructure. This infrastructure, which consists of drill pads, storage areas, transportation facilities, gravel mines, and other developments, alters terrain, disrupts natural drainage patterns, and changes or eliminates fish and wildlife habitat. The existing infrastructure for oil and gas operations in the Prudhoe Bay-Kuparuk complex is spread over more than 800 square miles of tundra. Nevertheless, the amount of wetland acreage affected is relatively small.

On Federal lands, BLM attaches mitigation requirements to leases and conditions drilling permits with environmental safeguards. These requirements take into account regional and site-specific environmental factors worthy of protection. Wetlands are prominent among the resources receiving protection. Although all damage to wetlands from petroleum development on Federal lands cannot be avoided, BLM actively attempts to protect these resources.

In addition to the direct impacts associated with placing gravel on tundra, petroleum development on the Arctic coastal plain has resulted in significant indirect impacts. In the wettest parts of the Prudhoe Bay oil field, flooding and thermokarst covered more than twice the area directly affected by roads and other construction activities. As with other types of developmental activities, stream crossings (e.g., for pipelines or access roads) can affect water quality through changes to stable stream banks, erosion, siltation, and stream bottom disturbance.

Other secondary effects such as release of contaminants, sewage dumping, oil spills, and dust have damaged or degraded wide areas of tundra wetlands adjacent to oil and gas facilities. Contaminants released from reserve pits by overflows, leaching, or breaching has released diesel fuel, heavy metals, ethylene glycol, and soluble salts onto the tundra, and has killed vegetation surrounding reserve pits. According to figures from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, in 1985 alone there were 521 oil spills on the Arctic coastal plain, amounting to about 82,000 gallons of oil. Diesel and crude oil, which can cause severe damage to tundra vegetation and can remain toxic for more than 4 years after the spill, accounted for almost half of the spills.

Placer mining is the other activity in western Alaska that significantly affects wetlands. Placer is a mineral deposit usually located in gravel associated with a stream bed. Mining operations involve retrieval of placer deposits by hand, hydraulic, mechanical, dredging, or drifting methods. A mining operation can be divided into stripping, sluicing, and disposing of tailings.

Small scale placer mining operations can be found throughout the State, with concentrations in the south central, southwest, and interior regions. As of the late 1980s, about 450 miners actively worked an undetermined number of the approximately 84,000 placer mining claims that exist in Alaska, most on Federal lands. A Bureau of Land Management map of nearly all claims shows that they follow the stream network of Alaska. (See Figure XIV-2.)

Figure XIV-2: MAJOR PLACER MINES IN WESTERN ALASKA
MAJOR PLACER MINES IN WESTERN ALASKA

The Corps estimates that up to 2250 acres of wetlands per year are lost to placer mining activities (i.e., placement of fill). The Corps only has information on placer mining activities over which it has jurisdiction, however, so this is a conservative estimate.2 Placer mining activities receded in the period 1989-93, primarily because of depressed gold prices3 and increased regulation of water quality and effluent discharge by State agencies and EPA. The price of gold has been rising recently, however, and may portend an increase in mining.

Placer mining in Alaska has a long history of causing adverse impacts on fish and wildlife and their habitats. Siltation, filling of wetlands, and severe alteration of stream channels have often eliminated anadromous and resident fish habitat, impeded or totally blocked fish passage, and in some large scale placer mining areas, totally extirpated local fish stocks. Although the extent of the degradation has not been fully quantified (e.g., number of streams affected, stream miles), it is clear that the loss of biological productivity in streams and adjacent wetlands due to placer mining activity is a major problem. Indeed, some streams are completely dead biologically.

Wetlands and riparian habitats adjacent to placer mined streams are destroyed by excavation of gravel and placer deposits, deposition of overburden and tailings, and construction of berms, ditches, settling ponds, camps, airstrips, and roads associated with mining. Wetland impacts involve direct and indirect losses, as well as functional alteration. Indirect impacts include blockage of natural drainage patterns and displacement of waterfowl, shorebirds, and other terrestrial wildlife species that use wetland areas.

Federal Programs and Projects  

Oil and Gas Exploration and Development  

Two provisions of the Federal tax code specific to the oil and gas industry have made development in Alaska marginally more lucrative: the oil and gas depletion allowance and the expensing, as opposed to capitalizing, of intangible drilling costs. Also, industry exploration and development activities are regulated by State and other Federal agencies.

Income Tax Code: From 1926-1975, the oil and gas industry enjoyed a significant tax break: the depletion allowance. The allowance set an arbitrary percentage for depreciating the value of a well as its oil or gas was pumped out. The arbitrary allowance (27.5 percent of gross income through 1968 and 22 percent until 1975) bore no relation to costs, and permitted tax-free recovery, often exceeding the amount invested in the property. Producers could deduct the allowable percentage of gross income from taxable income with a limit on the deduction equal to 50 percent of taxable income. In 1975, this deduction was eliminated for all but independent producers, who now enjoy a 15 percent depletion allowance for the first 1,000 barrels of oil and the first 6 million cubic feet of gas produced daily.

There are a few independent producers operating on the Arctic coastal plain. Their operations became commercially exploitable once the infrastructure was installed to service Prudhoe Bay. These independent producers have had a very small impact on wetlands, and restricting the depletion allowance would not have been an effective way of addressing this impact. Although, nationally the depletion allowance encouraged the development of otherwise marginal wells, it probably had minimal effect on development on the North Slope.

The second tax code provision aids the industry by allowing deductions for intangible costs related to oil and gas exploration and production. The deduction allows producers to take an immediate tax deduction for "intangible" expenses (i.e., those without salvage value) on labor, fuel, power, materials, supplies, and tools. No rapid write-off is allowed for "tangible" costs, such as expenditures for pipe, tanks, and pumps used in an oil or gas rig. These deductions are a significant factor in offsetting the costs of exploration and development, and undoubtedly increased the rate of return on the North Slope field. However, the North Slope oil field is very valuable in its own right, and elimination of the deduction for intangible costs probably would not have significantly altered the nature of the development or its impact on wetlands.

Regulation: The State and two Federal agencies (the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE) and the Corps of Engineers) regulate oil and gas activities that may affect Alaska's wetlands.

The BOEMRE leases Federal tracts on the outer continental shelf (OCS). However, BOEMRE does not have the authority to regulate the activities that occur on coastal wetlands, even when those activities are conducted in support of OCS oil and gas development. Industry activities in support of OCS exploration and development that affect coastal wetlands are regulated by State and other Federal agencies. BOEMRE does address secondary impacts of OCS activities (i.e., onshore effects) in its EISs, and it can formally notify lessees of responsibilities and procedures under other Federal and State laws in clauses included in oil and gas leases (Information to Lessee clauses).

Under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, the Army Corps of Engineers issues permits for discharge of dredged or fill material into waters of the U.S. (including wetlands); such discharges may be associated with installing structures in navigable waters.4 In 1979, two years after oil production began in the Prudhoe Bay region, the Corps exerted regulatory jurisdiction over North Slope wetlands. The Corps (with oversight by EPA and the assistance of the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and State agencies) regulates most construction activities on State and private lands on the Arctic coastal plain. The Corps can condition permits required to construct support facilities for exploration on the OCS through coastal wetlands.

The 404 regulatory program has resulted in relatively thorough review of proposals, increasing the likelihood that project designers will include state-of-the-art mitigation measures. However, in many cases, the Corps exercises its discretionary authority and omits stipulations and conditions recommended by cooperating agencies to mitigate wetland impacts. In addition, there are still many projects which, for a variety of reasons, receive expedited or inadequate review.

There are procedures and techniques which could lessen wetland losses and environmental harm due to oil and gas activities in Alaska. Some of the suggestions often offered are:

  • If directional drilling is technically and economically feasible, it could be used to reduce damages in highly valuable wetlands.
  • The Corps could require off-site mitigation of damages associated with oil and gas activities in wetlands. Currently, it does this rarely. This is more difficult to do in Alaska than in Louisiana, but some opportunities do present themselves.
  • Greater use might be made of performance bonds to ensure compliance with mitigation requirements.5 Performance bonds create an incentive for developers to complete work in a timely manner, because the bonds cannot be released until permit provisions are fulfilled. Since the regulatory authority must approve release of the bond, monitoring of mitigation projects is assured. In the event of noncompliance, the Government is relieved of the need to pursue costly enforcement action, and the bond provides a ready source of funding to restore the environment quickly. To be fully effective, bonds must be of sufficient magnitude to cover the cost of restoration in the event the standards are not met, together with any increased governmental administrative costs and penalties.

Leasing: Section 1008 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Act calls for the establishment of a program for oil and gas leasing on non-North Slope Federal lands.6 The Act provides for oil and gas studies on national wildlife refuges in Alaska to provide information for use in future land management decisions. Any leasing, exploration, and production would be subject to permits and stipulations designed to protect fish, wildlife and subsistence activities. 1.7 million acres of national wildlife refuge lands in Alaska (excluding the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) could eventually be subject to leasing, if it is judged compatible with refuge purposes. No leasing would occur on refuge lands where the Secretary determines that oil and gas exploration or development would be incompatible with the purposes of the refuge. It should be noted that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is the only refuge currently receiving national attention for exploration and development.7

To the east of Prudhoe Bay is the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When the refuge was established in 1980, the eastern portion of the plain was designated wilderness, but Congress left unresolved the issue of whether or not the remaining 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain (known as the "1002 lands") should be made available for oil and gas leasing and development. Congress directed the Department of the Interior to weigh that area's oil potential against its value as wilderness and wildlife habitat. In 1987, the Department recommended opening the 1002 lands to full petroleum exploration and development. Congress considered legislation on the subject in 1987, 1988 and 1989. Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in March, 1989, Congress deferred consideration of coastal plain oil and gas leasing, while the intricacies of oil spill liability legislation were being addressed. The invasion of Kuwait heightened the public discussion of leasing in ANWR.

Environmental organizations have argued that petroleum development in the 1002 area of the coastal plain is not compatible with the wilderness setting of ANWR. Twenty-two of these organizations8 have made protection of the 1002 area of ANWR a central feature of their national agendas, combining their efforts to promote wilderness designation for the 1002 area. Any leasing, exploration, or production in ANWR would be subject to permits and stipulations designed to protect environmental resources. The Administration is on record as opposing leasing in ANWR.

In addition to the onshore leasing program, there is an offshore program. The first sale for OCS leases in offshore Alaska was held in 1976. Since that time, 15 sales have been held offering leases for more than 98 million acres on the Alaska OCS Region. The Department has leased 1,477 tracts (8.2 million acres). As of August 1990, there were 917 active leases owned by 32 lessees, covering over 2 million acres. Thus far, only drilling on leases in the Beaufort Sea has produced significant oil and gas discoveries. In the event that the coastal plain on ANWR were opened to leasing, the onshore infrastructure constructed to serve ANWR would stimulate additional exploration in the Beaufort Sea area.

Placer Mining 

The Federal land managing agencies in Alaska (Forest Service, BLM, National Park Service, and FWS) manage mining under the General Mining Law of 1872 and their individual mandates and regulations. The law provides for the exploration, development, and production of mineral resources on public lands, and the right of access to mining claims. In addition, under their organic statutes, each Federal agency has broad authority to regulate activities on their lands.

To the extent that there is a subsidy to placer mining, it derives from the cost-free access to hard-rock minerals on public lands. Under the 1872 Law, no fee is charged to miners for extracting the resource. Originally the law covered oil and gas as well as hard-rock minerals. Now however, coal, oil, geothermal, and gas are subject to leasing arrangements that require a fair price to be paid for public resources; only hard-rock minerals remain free for the taking. A mining company must only stake a claim to secure a deposit against others. Although a claim may not exceed 160 acres, a mining company may stake an unlimited number of claims. A claim may be kept indefinitely so long as at least $100 of work is conducted on it annually. Should a mining company wish to purchase surface rights as well (a procedure known as patenting a claim), it may do so for $2.50 to $5.00 per acre, depending on the type of claim.

Status and Prospects  

Alaska presently produces about 25 percent of the nation's petroleum reserves, almost all of it from oil fields located on the Arctic coastal plain. Most of this production comes from the Prudhoe Bay oil field, with lower levels of production coming from younger fields like Kuparuk and Milne Point. In 1989, production from wells in these oil fields began to decline. Significant facility expansion is not expected in these areas.

In the past five years, there has been a marked increase in oil and gas production from reservoirs located in the shallow coastal waters adjacent to Prudhoe Bay. This had a corresponding increase in effects on coastal wetlands. Facilities have been constructed for the Lisburne and Endicott production units, both of which required extensive onshore infrastructures. Additional construction on the eastern edge of Prudhoe Bay will be required for the Niakuk production unit, if increases in the price of oil make the project feasible.

Most prospects for future oil and gas development in Alaska are on the Arctic coastal plain, in State coastal waters, or on the OCS. Interest in exploration and development is focused primarily on the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Department has analyzed the environmental consequences of oil and gas development in ANWR. As a result, it is anticipated that regulatory mechanisms and controls similar to those at Prudhoe Bay would be in place for any development on the refuge. It has not yet been determined which Federal agencies would be responsible for regulating any development on ANWR, but it is likely that responsibility would be shared by EPA, the Corps, BOEMRE, FWS, and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The Administration is on record as opposing leasing in ANWR.

There are a few new petroleum prospects west of Prudhoe Bay. Development of the shallow West Sak field9 will require closer well spacing, and therefore, more pads, roads, and pipelines. Expansion into adjacent Gwydyr Bay, Point Thompson, Seal Island (offshore), and the Colville River delta is likely, since the State has created units for these fields. Drilling on the western edge of the Arctic coastal plain, in the National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska, has not yielded commercially recoverable petroleum reserves.

In the 5-year period from 1992 to 1997, the Department scheduled 6 additional lease sales for the Alaska OCS Region. Two sales are in the process of being cancelled. The remaining four (Cook Inlet, Beaufort Sea, Chukchi Sea, and Yukata) are scheduled to be held in 1996-97. The most intense interest is in Beaufort and Cook Inlet.

Until recently, oil and gas activities on the OCS or in Alaskan coastal waters have not significantly affected wetlands. There have been no producing wells in these areas, and thus no onshore infrastructure has been needed. With the increased industry activity on the OCS and in the coastal waters, wetlands will become more vulnerable. If the experience with the Endicott project is any indication of the environmental impacts associated with petroleum development in Alaskan coastal waters, significant wetland losses can be expected. Endicott required about eight million cubic yards of gravel and other fill material to construct its infrastructure (a gravel causeway, drilling islands, roads, and gravel pits).

The depressed market for gold in the last few years (1989-93) is reflected in the relatively low number of permit applications for placer mining activities.10 When gold prices are down, the majority of placer operations are run by small scale and recreational miners. These small operations typically involve suction dredges working the substrate of streams and rivers or stripping relatively small riparian areas. Small placer operators tend to have more impact on instream habitats and fish. Although there may be less surface disturbance associated with these operators, because of their narrow profit margins regulators have been reluctant to impose much in the way of mitigation or rehabilitation requirements on them. Recently, however, small operators have shown a willingness to acknowledge the impact of their activities and discuss mitigation. They are receiving more pressure from regulatory agencies, land managers, and environmental groups to comply with regulatory standards.

There are only three or four major mining companies currently operating in Alaska, but for those placer operations with enough capital to discuss mitigation, progress has been made toward improving effluent discharges, increasing the number of settling ponds, recontouring of tailings, revegetation and restocking of riparian and stream habitats, and initiating studies of the time period required for natural revegetation of mined areas (as opposed to active rehabilitation and revegetation). Again, there appears to be evidence that resource and regulatory agencies have tempered their approach based on their assessment of a company's financial status.

Largely through the increased enforcement efforts of the Corps, EPA, and the Alaska Departments of Fish and Game, Environmental Conservation, and Natural Resources, both small and large scale placer gold operations are beginning to comply with water quality regulations.

Recommendations

  1. Oil and gas industry:
    a. Consider expanding the use of performance-bonds for the mitigation of wetland losses.
    Performance bonds create an incentive for developers to complete work in a timely manner. In the event of noncompliance, the Government is relieved of the need to pursue costly enforcement action, and the bond provides a ready source of funding to restore the environment quickly. BLM already utilizes performance bonds on lands which it administers. To be fully effective, the bonds must be of sufficient magnitude to cover the cost of restoration in the event the standards are not met, together with any increased governmental administrative costs and penalties. Congress should consider whether a performance-bond approach could be utilized more widely in the wetland regulatory programs.
    b. Strengthen the mitigation requirements in the regulatory programs to ensure adequate compensation for project impacts.
    In granting 404 permits in Alaska, the Corps often exercises its discretionary authority not to include stipulations and conditions recommended by cooperating agencies to mitigate wetland impacts. There are procedures and techniques which could lessen wetland losses and environmental harm due to oil and gas activities in Alaska. Conducting the exploration phases of petroleum operations during the winter months, when the tundra is frozen and snow cover protects vegetation and other features of the terrain, will reduce wetland effects. Also, using ice instead of gravel for exploratory drilling pads and road construction is less disruptive environmentally. To avoid cumulative impacts on tundra vegetation from ice road construction, these facilities should not be allowed in the same location for two consecutive years.
    Specific measures that would help to mitigate the effects of petroleum development on the Arctic coastal plain include: making greater use of existing onshore facilities to support offshore oil and gas exploration and development; making more extensive use of alternatives to gravel roads and pads that make tundra restoration more effective, e.g., gravel-timber-insulation; limiting the construction of new facilities and reusing gravel from abandoned facilities; accelerating the restoration of abandoned pads and roads; eliminating reserve pits by disposing of drilling muds through reinjection; more careful monitoring of culvert placement and retrofitting problem culverts to prevent flooding caused by poor placement of culverts; consolidation of facilities to limit the extent of construction on tundra; and requiring directional drilling and other extraction technologies that reduce wetland loss and degradation whenever technically feasible.
    c. Expand the joint industry-government efforts to develop more effective methods for restoring and rehabilitating damaged and degraded wetlands.
    In recent years, cooperative efforts between petroleum companies and State and Federal resource agencies have developed more effective methods for restoring wetlands through site reclamation and restoration. Recent efforts have successfully restored native vegetation to overburden material associated with gravel mining, e.g., Mine Site F in the Kuparuk oil field. Similarly, mine sites near the Dalton Highway (the Haul Road) have been restored to shallow ponds supporting pendent grasses. These successes suggest that increased cooperative efforts could lead to more effective methods for restoring damaged wetlands on the Arctic coastal plain.
  2. Placer mining:
    a. Reduce the adverse effects of placer mining and increase the likelihood of post-mining reclamation through advanced planning.
    The adverse effects of placer mining on wetlands could be reduced by requiring mine operators to submit mining plans prior to initiating mining activities. At a minimum, plans should contain information on how operators intend to locate and extract mineral deposits. Wetland and other environmental effects could be greatly reduced, if mining operations were confined to the mineral deposit sites and stream mining were prohibited for purposes of exploration. Increased use of settling ponds to maintain water quality would help to control environmental effects during mining, and make post-mining stream reclamation (including wetland restoration) easier and more effective.
    b. Expand cooperative efforts to identify and reclaim wetlands that have been affected by mining activity.
    Recently, local governments, State and Federal agencies, and the mining industry have begun a cooperative planning effort on the Nome River to restore the River and adjacent wetlands. Although only in the initial planning stages, this effort provides a framework for mitigating the adverse effects of placer mining activity.

References

Gould, Rowan. 1990. Oil and Gas Operations in Alaska. Background Report. Office of Program Analysis, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC, 6 pp.

Rogers, John. 1990. Placer Mining in Alaska. Background Report. Office of Program Analysis, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, DC, 4 pp.


Footnotes

1 If petroleum development occurs on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there will be wetland effects there, too.

2 The Corps estimates that at most, it has jurisdiction over half the placer mining activities in Alaska.

3 In real terms, the price of gold fell steadily from $448/oz in 1987 to $310/oz in 1991.

4 Oil and gas development in Alaska is also regulated under two other sections of the Clean Water Act. Section 401 requires a 404 permit applicant to get a certification that any discharge will comply with State effluent limitations and water quality standards. Section 402 addresses the chemical quality of the Nation's water and associated wetlands, and establishes a program that requires a permit for most discharges into surface waters and can require discharge limits for various pollutants.

5 BLM already has such a program (43 CFR 3104). On Federal lands administered by it, BLM holds minimum bonds to cover lease activities. Among other things, these bonds help to ensure proper protection of the environment during drilling and production activities on lease sites and proper reclamation of sites prior to abandonment. Funds for restoration of any unauthorized damage to wetlands would come out of these secured bonds.

6 This excludes the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and is all lands south of the Brooks Range.

7 Native landowners have pursued seismic and surface geological exploration on their lands within the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Should economically recoverable oil reserves be located on Native lands, development of adjacent refuge land would be likely. Also, oil and gas production on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has been going on since 1957.

8 Including such diverse interests as the Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Trustees for Alaska, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Garden Club of America.

9 West Sak is located near the Kuparuk and Milne Point fields.

10 In 1988, the Corps received 357 applications for permits for placer mining activities. In the years 1989 through 1993, the annual number of applications ranged from 74 to 129.


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For more information on the impact of Federal programs on wetlands,
contact Jon H. Goldstein by email at jon_goldstein@ios.doi.gov or
by telephone at 202-208-4077