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Drilling in Alaska’s North Slope closer than ever

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Some of the potentially largest sources of untapped oil and natural gas in the nation may be opening up for exploration and development for the first time in decades. The National Petroleum Reserve [of] Alaska (NPRA) and the “1002 area” off its northern coast are the focus of a recent executive order with the hope of boosting Alaskan energy production.

Executive order 3352 was signed by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Trump appointee Ryan Zinke, on May 31st. The order calls for the “lawful review and development of a revised Integrated Activity Plan for the NPR-A that strikes an appropriate statutory balance of promoting development while protecting surface resources” and “efficiently and effectively maximizing the tracts offered for sale during the next NPR-A lease sale”.

Though federally owned, these areas have remained at the center of the artic drilling controversy since the 1970s due to the potential for irreversible environmental and ecological damage. Past attempts to take advantage of these resources have fluctuated from wholehearted support to legislative opposition depending on the political winds and incumbent administration.

Proponents claim the economic impact of drilling on both a federal and local level are too important to pass up. Commissioner Andy Mack of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, said “We need to use our energy resources to advance the country’s interest, and I think Alaska is an excellent place to do that because of the amount of energy in these areas. We have safely explored and produced on the North Slope in the past without any harm to the environment, and that was a remarkable fear. I think we can do that again.”

The 1002 area, named for the very section of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act which has kept it out of the hands of industry developers since 1980, is 1.5-million acres of rolling coastal tundra. The most recent analysis done by the US Geological Survey in 1998 estimates this area alone could contain anywhere between 4.3 to 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 11 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.

A new survey, utilizing 3-D seismic data and new mapping technology, will be completed within the next two years to determine which areas make the most sense to extract resources. However, a lease sale by the Department of the Interior before that assessment is completed remains on the table. Whether this executive order will usher in a new energy boom for Alaska or disappear in the face of environmental opposition remains to be seen – but oil and gas companies nationwide will be closely watching.

Article written by HEI contributor Kevin Abbott.

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