Alaska seeks to advance plan dismissed by Jewell

State of Alaska seeks to advance refuge exploration plan dismissed by Interior secretary

Associated Press

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- The state of Alaska on Tuesday announced an effort to advance a multiyear plan aimed at determining the oil and gas potential in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a proposal that already has been dismissed by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

Jewell, in a June 28 letter to Gov. Sean Parnell, said the seismic exploration plan, proposed by the state in May, is prohibited under federal law and would require congressional authorization. She also reiterated the Obama administration's opposition to allowing drilling on the coastal plain of the refuge.

State Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan, during a news conference in Anchorage on Tuesday, said under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the secretary must approve an exploration plan if it meets the necessary requirements. He said he believes the plan the state is now formally submitting does.

Jewell, in her letter, said the exploration authorization expired in the 1980s. Sullivan said that's not his read, and the responsibility will fall on the federal government to prove there was some sunset.

Parnell declined to speculate on what the state might do if Jewell denies Alaska's exploration plan. The state also is seeking a special use permit.

He defended his decision to push forward with the plan. State officials have seen the plan as capable of helping to reinvigorate — and reshape — the debate over whether to drill on the refuge's coastal plain. Parnell has expressed frustration that the feds haven't sought to assess the oil and gas potential as part of its management plan for the refuge. A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokeswoman has said Congress must weigh in on any potential oil and gas activity on the roughly 1.5-million acre coastal plain.

"We believe the people of America deserve to know the value of the resources below ground in ANWR so that can be balanced with the value of the fish and wildlife resources on the surface," Parnell said. "All of it — all of it — belongs to our people."

The last seismic program took place in the early 1980s. In 1987, the Interior secretary at the time recommended development. Congress in 1995 passed legislation that would have allowed for drilling but then-President Bill Clinton vetoed that. Efforts since then aimed at opening the refuge for development — supported by state political leaders — have gone nowhere.

"Regardless of one's stance on opening ANWR, Alaskans and Americans deserve to know what they own," U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said in a release. "A good, responsible land manager should share this curiosity, and I look forward to Secretary of Interior Jewell's response to this reasonable request."

An Interior spokeswoman said Jewell's letter from last month stood as an immediate response to Tuesday's announcement. The state says under federal law, the exploration plan must be published and made available for public review, a hearing must be held in Alaska and plans consistent with the lands act and its regulations must be approved in 120 days.

Parnell in May proposed a multiyear, multimillion-dollar 3D seismic program under which he saw the state, federal government and private sector playing a role. He had told Jewell he'd need a "positive indication" from the feds on the plan before asking the Legislature for up to $50 million toward the program.

On Tuesday, he said he no longer envisions a federal partnership and is willing to put more than $50 million toward the effort. He said up to $50 million would be needed for the first season of work, after which officials would reassess and move forward.

Parnell expected the state would need help from private contractors for things like the seismic work and building ice roads. The state proposes seismic surveying and drilling in winter.

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