In the great state of Alaska there is a region that is designated as the National Petroleum Reserve. (NPR, and no, this is not about the National Propaganda Radio, which also goes by NPR) The NPR consists of 23 million acres of Alaska’s North Slope wilderness that was originally established in 1923 by President Harding to supply the oil needed to keep the U.S. Navy fueled. Since it’s establishment, the National Petroleum Reserve has sat idle, and today there is not one single production well in operation there. Access is difficult, to say the least, and with no current roads, all equipment would have to be flown in, making it increasingly expensive to extract the oil and distribute it to refineries or transportation hubs.
So just why has there been exactly no oil or gas production from the designated National Petroleum Reserves in question? It was designated almost 90 years ago, and with America trying to reduce her independence on foreign oil, it only seems logical to carefully open it up for production. As a matter of fact, 4 million carefully studied acres were opened up back in the 80’s, as the federal government sold several leases in the area, but none were developed, and then they expired. The same thing happened in the 90’s, as the federal government again sold another $150 million dollars worth of drilling rights in NPR-Alaska. The history behind NPR-A, and the reasons as to why there has never been a drop of oil or a cubic meter of gas production is well documented here, from the Government Affairs Program-American Geological Institute. Here is the final report summary listed in the above linked page:
“The final report was issued on August 7, 1998. It states that 4 million acres (87 percent) of the area studied will be available for leasing. Development in 20 percent of that area will be limited by prohibiting oil and gas surface pipelines but can be accessed by directional drilling. The areas where leasing is prohibited or restricted fall mainly around the Teshekpuk Lake and Colville River, which provide habitats for molting geese, caribou, raptors and passerine. The plan also prohibits oil and gas facilities in riparian areas identified by the North Slope residents and governments as areas important for subsistence and forms a Subsistence Advisory Panel”
That was back in 1998, and after decades of studies and input from local citizens,s state agencies, and a slew of environmental groups, there was a firm plan put into place to allow the extraction of oil and gas deposits from the NPR-A designated areas. Note in the above final report, that it specifically mentions the Colville River area. This is at the center of the latest roadblock that has been put in the way of any production from NPR-A. From an article at FoxNews.com, dated Nov. 28, 2011, we see the following headline: Energy in America: No Bridge to Oil. The bridge that is now being denied in that article is in fact a proposed bridge over the Colville River that is mentioned in the above paragraph. 30 years of exhaustive studies, research and planning in the designated National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska, along with millions of dollars in the sale of leases and drilling rights, were once again poised to be all for nothing, because of a fight over a bridge. How do the locals feel about this bridge? The mayor of the town Nuiqsuit, Thomas Napageak says the bridge would make his town a hub for the oil industry and help lower the current 38% unemployment.
Conoco Phillips wants to build a road bridge and pipeline over the river to connect to the nearby Alpine development, which sits just outside the NPR. But the Army Corps of Engineers and related EPA and Fish and Wildlife agencies originally rejected the plan telling the oil company it had to go under the river. Update 12/11/2011: From the Petroleum News we see the following headline: Agencies Agree on Bridge, Corps of Engineers decision this year.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency, which had opposed the company’s plan to put the crude oil pipeline from CD-5 to the company’s Alpine production facilities on a bridge to be built across the Nigliq Channel of the Colville River, have reached “an agreement in principle” with the company on the proposal.
While this looks like marvelous news at the onset, ConocPhillips Alaska spokeswoman Natalie Lowman said in a Dec 5th email, “We have not yet seen the permit nor it’s conditions, but we are encouraged by today’s announcement.”
Alaska Congressman Don Young added that while he welcomed this most recent announcement, “The fact of the matter is that this should have happened sooner.” He noted the importance of the CD-5 project not only for Alaska jobs, “but also because it will put this nation on a path towards becoming energy independent.”
This is a very welcome development in moving America forward towards energy independence in the future. The only question left to ask is, “Why did it take almost 90 years to do it?”