I was sad to see Empire columnist Ben Brown’s recent tirade (Empire, NPR-A: Misguided federal policy,” Sept. 30) over the NPR-A’s management in your pages. It was largely unfounded, uninformed, and misguided. I guess he forgot to read the Congressional legislation that re-established the Naval Reserve No. 4 as our National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska back in 1976 under Gerald Ford.
That change in management (from the Navy to the Department of the Interior) for this huge area in our Western Arctic included a number of Congressional requirements. In that formal act, Congress directed the Interior Secretary to establish “conditions, restrictions, and prohibitions” to protect significant fish, wildlife, subsistence, recreational, historical, and scenic resources of the Reserve. Congress specifically identified two of the current Special Areas as examples of places warranting “maximum protection” under law. Much of the Reserve will remain open for drilling and pipelines under the proposal recently announced by Secretary Salazar, including a vast majority of the area’s oil (72% as we now know it), thus providing the responsible balance Congress called for. If following the letter of the law in an Act of Congress is “misguided,” then Ben Brown must be right.
Even so, Brown’s allegations of mismanagement are largely imagined. His statements regarding the recent BLM decision for management of the NPR-A are mere fear-mongering and notably qualified by his own caveats: “promise to impede,” “appear to violate,” “may be stalled,” and “may force....” He has obviously little knowledge of the law behind the NPR-A establishment, but he pushes his attitude with plenty of would-be hokum.
The new BLM plan finally approaches the balance between energy development and conservation of wild lands and wildlife that Congress called for in 1976. It offers plenty of oil production and does not cut off pipeline construction for off-shore drilling—scary as off-shore drilling is. And by the way, protecting the Refuge was not a stimulus for OCS drilling. Big Oil wanted the Arctic Ocean for drilling anyway and anytime, with or without the Refuge. Conservation and environmental safety in balance with energy development on all fronts should be our goal. A parting question: If we truly need all these resources for US energy independence, why would we be selling Alaskan oil and gas and coal overseas? The issue, sadly, is short-term economics, not long-term energy independence nor American patriotism.
• Fair lives in Palmer on Lazy Mountain, and has ventured into the Alaskan Arctic many times as a wildlife biologist and freelance writer. He has written and co-written many technical and popular articles based upon his own experience and research and many interviews, about the NPR-A, the Arctic Refuge, and the Arctic in general. He recently wrote an article about the NPR-A planning in Audubon, Nov-Dec 2011, and his work appears in Arctic Voices (Seven Stories Press, NY, Subhankar Banerjee ed.) and On Arctic Ground (Braided River, The Mountaineers Books, Debbie Miller) both released in July.