Murkowski: Delay of NPR-A Permitting Decision Unacceptable

Letter Calls on Army Corps of Engineers to Approve Road and Bridge Across Coleville

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, yesterday sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy requesting a timely resolution of permitting roadblocks that threaten to derail the first oil and gas production in the National Petroleum Preserve Alaska (NPR-A).

In her letter to Assistant Secretary Darcy, who visited ConocoPhillips’ Alpine oil field on the North Slope in August, Murkowski stressed the importance of allowing surface access to NPR-A through construction of a road and bridge across the Colville River.

Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rejected a plan by ConocoPhillips to reach its lease holdings on the eastern edge of NPR-A, a prospective satellite of its Alpine oil field known as CD-5, by constructing a gravel road and bridge across the Colville. Instead, the Corps determined that a buried pipeline and the use of horizontal drilling, while allowing access to the area only by aircraft, would have less environmental impact. 

ConocoPhillips appealed the decision, saying the absence of a bridge would result in higher development costs and greater environmental impacts. The Interior Department has indicated support for the road and bride approach.
Murkowski’s letter to Assistant Secretary Darcy is below:

Dear Ms. Darcy:

Thank you for making the trip to Alaska last month and your ongoing work on the CD-5 issue.  I appreciate your personal visit to the Alpine oil development site bordering the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), though I regret that you did not have time to meet with my senior Energy Committee staff while in Alaska.

As you are aware, almost immediately prior to your visit, I visited Alpine together with Secretary Salazar, Deputy Secretary Hayes, and Senator Reed, my counterpart on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and the Environment.  Our main purpose was to better understand the CD-5 Alpine Satellite Development permit appeal (POA-2005-1576) for a roaded-bridge and pipeline crossing of the Colville River Delta. 

My impressions from the site visit, and I believe those of my colleagues, were quite consistent with the Interior Department’s position as outlined in Deputy Secretary Hayes’ letter to Colonel Koenig on May 3rd of this year.  Specifically, that letter stated that “Based on discussions that we have had with FWS and EPA, in particular, we believe that environmental concerns raised about the bridge crossing can and should be addressed and mitigated.”

That letter also noted “extensive and important negotiations” with the principal stakeholders in the area, including Native communities and the municipal and State governments, identifying “several measures to minimize the potential impacts to hydrology, subsistence, and historic landmarks in and around Nigliq Channel.”  To directly reiterate the point, the support of each of these entities, which is dependent on a roaded bridge, is vitally important and should be a primary consideration.

Month by month since late spring, I have been reassured that resolution of the appeal was imminent, and that we would have the decision on whether a roaded bridge to access the NPR-A will be permitted or whether the COE will kill the project by mandating the added and unnecessary risk, noise, expense, and environmental impact of continuously running aircraft and buried pipeline. 

President Obama pledged, in his May 14th address to the nation, the accelerated development of new areas within the NPR-A.  It will be difficult if not impossible for Americans to realize or take seriously the President’s commitment if basic infrastructure in and around the NPR-A remains prohibited or impeded by his agencies.

 It has now been five weeks since your visit and many months since the appeal was filed. Your prompt personal attention to this issue is requested, along with a progress report and a date when we can expect a decision.  While I understand that major decisions require considerable patience and resources, the nation is running short of both.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski