Governor Sean Parnell reaffirmed his opposition to any plan or wilderness review process that further encumbers the potential for oil and gas development on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
“It is incredible that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to increase Wilderness designation and lock up 11 billion barrels of oil,” Parnell said. “Through a detailed letter from Attorney General Dan Sullivan, and through other correspondence, my administration has repeatedly questioned the legality of this maneuver by the federal government, and yet we have not even received a response concerning the legally suspect course that Fish and Wildlife is choosing to follow.”
Oil and gas development in the 1002 area of the coastal plain would provide a secure onshore domestic supply of energy for the nation, create tens of thousands of jobs throughout the country, and ensure the continued operation of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System for years to come.
The governor noted that oil from ANWR could help meet U.S. demand for 25 years or more and that development is compatible with the protection of wildlife and their habitat.
“We think we have strong legal options to prevent these unwarranted federal actions,” Parnell said.
Parnell’s comments come in response to the Service’s announcement that the agency will conduct wilderness reviews for three Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) for potential inclusion within the National Wilderness Preservation System. These three WSAs encompass almost all refuge lands not currently designated as Wilderness.
If the wilderness reviews lead to a recommendation to give wilderness status to any of the WSAs, the recommendation would require approval by the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Secretary of the Interior, and the President. If a recommendation receives support of all of these parties, the President would submit it to Congress, which alone has the authority to make final decisions on any proposed wilderness designations.
The wilderness reviews are expected to be completed by February 2011. The Service plans to release a draft revised plan for ANWR, which will include the wilderness reviews, for public review and comment in March 2011.
The Service plans to issue the final plan and record of decision, incorporating any recommendations arising from the wilderness reviews, in May 2012. The Service said its decision to review nearly all non-wilderness lands in ANWR for potential inclusion into the wilderness system, including the coastal plain, is in response to comments received nationwide during the recent comment period.
Currently, 42 percent of ANWR, including 500,000 acres of its eastern coastal plain, is already designated Wilderness. Overall, 92 percent of the refuge is closed to development. However, 1.5 million acres of the refuge’s western coastal plain, the 1002 area, was excluded from the Wilderness designation in a compromise struck under the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.
In exchange, Congress doubled the size of the refuge and designated eight million acres outside the 1002 area as Wilderness. In recognizing the coastal plain’s enormous oil and gas potential, Congress mandated a study of the 1002 area’s geology and petroleum resources, as well as its wildlife and environmental values. In 1987, the Department of the Interior concluded that oil and gas development would have minimal impact on wildlife and recommended the coastal plain be opened to development.
Congress in 1995 voted to open the 1002 area to exploration, but President Bill Clinton vetoed the measure.
A federal Wilderness designation over the 1002 area, which accounts for only eight percent of the refuge, would forever place off-limits what is likely North America’s most promising onshore oil and gas prospect.
RDC and Arctic Power vigorously oppose new wilderness designations inside ANWR and have testified in Washington, D.C., and Anchorage on the issue.
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