Democrats weigh in on blocked drilling project

Legislators urge Obama administration to permit ConocoPhillips to cross river

Posted: Friday, March 04, 2011

Some Alaska Democrats are trying to make sure top federal officials know there is bipartisan support in Alaska for drilling for oil in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

Fourteen Democratic legislators have written a letter to officials in the Obama administration urging ConocoPhillips Co. be given a permit to cross the Colville River to reach the drill site in Western Alaska.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, based on the recommendation of the Environmental Protection Agency, denied the company a permit to cross the river with a bridge and an above-ground pipeline, saying there were less environmentally damaging ways, including a buried pipeline, to develop a well site known as CD-5.

“American and Alaska needs this oil, and all Conoco needs is a bridge to develop it,” said Rep. Chris Tuck, D-Anchorage, who helped spearhead the effort.

The letter’s signers include Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, who has opposed calls for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The legislators join other Democrats, including U.S. Sen. Mark Begich and North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta, in supporting ConocoPhillips’ permit.

“Sometimes it’s good for national officials to hear from local Democrats who understand these issues better, and we hope our letter will have an impact,” said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, who noted drilling in the NPR-A was broadly supported in Alaska.

The fight over the CD-5 permit may also play a role in ongoing battles over oil taxes in Alaska.

ConocoPhillips was set to begin a major project in Alaska under the current Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Share oil tax. It and other companies say there is a decline in drilling in Alaska because of the oil tax rate, while legislators who support the tax say it is a failure to obtain federal permits that has blocked multiple developments.

Those include CD-5, Shell Oil’s offshore Chukchi exploration and Exxon Mobil Co.’s Point Thomson Unit project.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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