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Zinke signs secretarial order to jump-start Alaskan energy

Flanked by members of Alaska’s energy sector and elected officials at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association annual conference, US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed a secretarial order to jump-start Alaskan energy production in the National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A) and update resource assessments for areas of the North Slope, including the “1002 area” of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The order calls for the lawful review and development of a revised integrated activity plan (IAP) for the NPR-A that strikes an appropriate statutory balance of promoting development while protecting surface resources. It also calls for an evaluation, under the existing IAP on efficiently and effectively maximizing the tracts offered for sale during the next NPR-A lease sale. Further, the order directs the Assistant Secretaries of Land and Minerals Management and Water and Science to submit a joint plan to the Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy for updating assessments of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas resources of Alaska’s North Slope, focusing on federal lands, including the NPR-A and the Section 1002 Area of the ANWR. The joint plan shall include consideration of new geological and geophysical data, as well as potential for reprocessing existing geological and geophysical data. The Secretarial Order does not reduce, eliminate or modify any environmental or regulatory requirements for energy development.

“The National Petroleum Reserve serves a critical role in both our energy and national security,” Secretary Zinke said. “This is land that was set up with the sole intention of oil and gas production. However, years of politics over policy put roughly half of the NPR-A off-limits. Using this land for its original intent will create good paying jobs and revenue for our northern-most city and strengthen our energy and national security. Working with the Alaska Native community, Interior will identify areas in the NPR-A where responsible energy development makes the most sense and devise a plan to extract resources. We will do it in a way that both respects the environment and traditional uses of the land, as well as maintains subsistence hunting and fishing access.”

Prior to making the announcement, the Secretary met with North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr., an Inupiat whaling captain, whose borough encompasses the NPR-A and ANWR.

“I welcome Secretary Zinke’s new Secretarial Order. In my meeting with Secretary Zinke earlier today, the Secretary committed that the Interior Department will engage in meaningful consultation with our communities, tribes, AEWC, and Native corporations during the Department’s review of the NPR-A IAP,” Mayor Brower said. “North Slope Borough residents recognize the importance of oil and gas to our local economy and the ability of our Borough and city governments to provide public services. We look forward to working with the Secretary to continue to permit responsible development on the North Slope while, at the same time, protecting our wildlife and our subsistence way of life.”

“This Secretarial Order is exactly the type of announcement that so many Alaskans have been asking for: a smart, timely step to restore access to our lands, throughput to our Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and growth to our economy under reasonable regulations that do not sacrifice environmental protections,” Lisa Murkowski, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman, said. “I thank Secretary Zinke for traveling to Alaska this week, for meeting with stakeholders to understand the unique needs and opportunities of our state, and for moving quickly to ensure we are finally allowed to realize more of our tremendous resource potential.”

“Today’s announcement marks a bright new chapter in Alaska’s history,” Governor Bill Walker said. “Thanks to Secretary Zinke’s leadership, we are ushering in an era of unprecedented federal-state partnership to develop Alaska’s resources. This order allows for greater state input as Alaskans continue our strong record of safe and responsible oil and gas development. I applaud Secretary Zinke for removing the obstacles so that Alaska can play a greater role in securing the nation’s energy dominance.”

Regarding the ANWR, Secretary Zinke said, “I’m a geologist. Science is a wonderful thing: it helps us understand what is going on deep below the surface of the earth. We need to use science to update our understanding of the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as Congress considers important legislation to responsibly develop there one day. This order takes the important first step in a smart and measured approach to energy development in ANWR.”

“Secretary Zinke’s order, coupled with a very clear commitment to serve as Alaska’s partner, represents exactly what our state and people have demanded from the Department of Interior for years,” Congressman Don Young said. “The message couldn’t be clearer, this administration understands the importance of responsible resource development in Alaska and the Arctic and is focused on addressing the many bureaucratic roadblocks that have stood in our way for far too long. As we work to refill the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and unleash Alaska’s full energy potential, I can think of no better time to double our efforts to strengthen opportunities within the NPR-A, to create a stable and reliable regulatory environment, and move forward on accessing and developing our nation’s rich deposits of oil and gas, particularly in the 1002 Area of ANWR. Under Secretary Zinke’s leadership, I believe Alaska no longer has an adversary in the Interior Department, but a willing partner.”

“I applaud Secretary Zinke’s order to responsibly evaluate how best to realize the development potential of Alaska’s vast energy resources in the NPR-A and 1002 area,” Senator Dan Sullivan said. “With this order, the Administration will allow the country to finally deliver on the promised energy security and abundance we had in mind when Congress set these lands aside for future exploration and development. To grow our economy and maintain US leadership in the world, America must remain an energy superpower. Robust Alaskan energy development will make this a reality.”

Within 31 days, the Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy is to deliver a plan to the Secretary for reviewing and effectuating the Department’s actions under the order.

Interior Counselor to the Secretary for Energy Policy, Vincent Devito said, “we will develop a responsible plan for responsible development.”

The National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska is the largest block of federally managed land in the United States. In 2010, the US Geological Survey estimated the NPR-A contained approximately 895 million barrels of economically recoverable oil and 52.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. On 21 February 2013, the Secretary of the Interior signed a Record of Decision approving the IAP for the NPR-A, which sets forth the Bureau of Land Management’s plan for future management of the area. That plan made approximately 11 million of the NPR-A’s 22.8 million acres unavailable for leasing, potentially precluding development of up to 350 million barrels of oil and 45 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The 1.5 million-acre coastal plain of the 19 million-acre ANWR is the largest unexplored, potentially productive geologic onshore basin in the United States. The primary area of potential oil and gas exploration is on the Section 1002 Area of ANWR, which was specifically set aside by Congress and the President in 1980 because of its potential for oil and natural gas development.

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