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Alaska Awards Leases on Disputed Acreage

Alaska has awarded two Beaufort Sea leases that had been pending since 2011 based on the state's belief that it -- and not the federal government -- controls 3,000 acres of tidal and submerged lands along the Beaufort coastline.

The state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is challenging the federal designation of 20,000 acres as being part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in a dispute over ANWR's western boundary (see Daily GPI Oct. 20). The commission also has published tract maps for the Nov. 19 North Slope and Beaufort Sea oil and gas lease sales that it said "accurately reflect" the western boundary of ANWR.

"I'm pleased that we are now able to award these leases to the 2011 bidders and clarify the acreage that is available for oil and gas exploration in this highly prospective region," said Natural Resources Commissioner Joe Balash. "Our next step is to determine how the state's assertion will affect existing leases on tidal and submerged lands along the ANWR boundary."

One of the leases on the disputed acreage went to Andrew Bachner and the other went to Keith Forsgren. Each of the individuals has bid in other lease sales as well, according to the department.

For many years, the ANWR western boundary has been depicted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Staines River, despite legal descriptions that identify the Canning River as the boundary, according to the state of Alaska. "Uncertainty over the western boundary has created roadblocks for state land managers seeking to administer oil and gas lease tracts at the boundary, particularly on tidal and submerged lands along the Beaufort Sea coast," the commission said.

The department's Division of Oil and Gas received the two Beaufort Sea bids in late 2011 and began working with the Division of Mining, Land and Water to determine the available acreage that could be awarded in those tracts. In 2012, the divisions determined that the boundary needed clarification and initiated further research. As a result of that initial work, in 2013, DNR began preparing to assert ownership of the disputed tidal and submerged lands.

During its research, the Division of Mining, Land and Water determined that uplands between the Canning and Staines rivers also were improperly mapped as part of ANWR. In this case, the division recognizes the lands between the rivers to be federally owned but not part of the refuge. However, these lands had been previously selected by the state as part of its Alaska Statehood Act entitlement, and last Friday, DNR requested priority conveyance of its state land selections west of the Canning River, amounting to nearly 20,000 acres of uplands.

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