Alaska Delegation Protests Administration Decision to Lockup 11.8 Million Acres of Petroleum Reserve

WASHINGTON,D.C. – U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) today sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar protesting a proposed land management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) that represents the largest land withdrawal by the federal government in decades. 

If allowed to stand, the Interior Department’s decision to place half of the 23.5 million acre petroleum reserve under special protection status would block access to vast oil and natural gas resources and make it difficult to approve a pipeline to connect future offshore production to existing infrastructure at Prudhoe Bay. 

“Given the significant new acreage put into Special and Deferral Areas in the NPR-A, we do not see how the Department of the Interior could meet the stated purpose and need of the land management plan, which includes the orderly development of the petroleum resources and construction of ‘necessary onshore infrastructure, primarily pipelines and roads, to bring oil and gas resources from leases in the Chukchi Sea to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) or a future gas pipeline from the North Slope,’” the delegation wrote. 

The petroleum reserve was created to protect our nation’s energy and economic security, not to become de facto wilderness. When Congress transferred management responsibilities for the NPR-A from the U.S. Navy to the Department of the Interior it did not alter the area's stated purposes as a petroleum reserve. Interior’s decision would violate both the petroleum reserve’s authorizing statute and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act’s “no more withdrawals” clause, which forbids additional land withdrawals in Alaska without the express approval of Congress.

“Providing access through the NPR-A for a pipeline and the ability to develop additional oil and natural gas resources along any pipeline corridor is critical to Arctic development and our national energy security,” the delegation wrote. “The production of oil and natural gas from offshore areas in the Arctic and onshore within the boundaries of the NPR-A offers untouched and promising sources of domestic energy and will also create tens of thousands of new jobs nationwide and new revenues for Alaska and the federal treasury. Unfortunately, we believe the preferred alternative selected by the Department of the Interior will significantly limit options for a pipeline through the NPR-A and will unnecessarily restrict access to rich oil and natural gas resources within the petroleum reserve.”

Sens. Murkowski and Begich, and Rep. Young said building a pipeline across the petroleum reserve is the best approach, environmentally and economically, to deliver offshore oil and gas to market and would ensure a steady supply for the continued operation of TAPS for decades to come. It would also make development of oil and gas resources deep inside the petroleum reserve more economical.

The decision on the NPR-A follows a separate, recent decision by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to indefinitely delay issuing a final decision on the proposed development of Alaska's Point Thomson oil and natural gas field. The delay threatens to set production at Point Thomson back another year, costing the state of Alaska jobs, revenue and badly needed energy production.

“Since in the past President Obama has spoken strongly in favor of constructing an Alaska natural gas pipeline, we assume you are aware that the natural gas resources at Point Thomson are critical to the success of any natural gas pipeline in Alaska. Taken together, your decision to withdraw half of the 23.5 million acre NPR-A and the Corps’ delay of Point Thomson create a very real threat to Alaska’s economic future,” the Alaska delegation wrote.

The full text of the delegation letter is attached.