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Alaska Federal Reserve Eyed for Drilling

Alaska Federal Reserve Eyed for Drilling

Natural gas producers for the most part last week backed Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt's proposed plan to re-open a large federal reserve site in northern Alaska to oil and natural gas exploration.

The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, which represents the governors of 29 oil- and gas-producing states, called Babbitt's decision a "victory" for Alaska and every other state with an interest in natural resource development. But the Independent Petroleum Associaton of America didn't think the secretary's proposal went far enough. The independent producer group had hoped Interior would open the entire Northeast quadrant of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) to oil and gas exploration activity.

The Interior plan calls for producers to resume leasing on about 87% of a 4.6 million-acre-site in the NPR-A, which is located in far north Alaska in the North Slope area between Brooks Range and the Arctic Ocean, and west of Prudhoe Bay. The reserve region has been off limits to exploratory activity since 1982-1984.

The department's proposal is open to comments from industry, environmentalists and the public during a 30-day period, which began on Friday and will end Sept. 8th. Babbitt is not expected to make any substantive changes to the proposal, according to Anne Jeffery, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Land Management in Alaska. The area could be open to leasing within three to six months after the secretary signs the decision, she noted.

Comments can be sent to the NPR-A Planning Team, Bureau of Land Management, Alaska State Office (930), 222 W. 7th Ave. #13, Anchorage, AK, 99513. Also, they can be sent via internet at:, or to the NPR-A website at before the September deadline.

The Interior proposal follows an 18-month study during which the department, the state of Alaska and local officials studied the environmental and economic ramifications of allowing oil and gas exploration and development in the region. If the area is open for leasing, the BLM put the planning area's oil resource estimate at 500 million barrels at $18 per barrel, and 2,200 million barrels at $30 per barrel. Estimates for natural gas resources were not available.

Susan Parker

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