BLM may go ahead with drilling in sensitive area

Posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2007

FAIRBANKS - The Bureau of Land Management could go ahead with plans to allow drilling in a sensitive area near Teshekpuk Lake on the North Slope, an agency spokeswoman said.

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The BLM added to its environmental impact assessment of drilling in the area and that information is now being reviewed, said spokeswoman Sharon Wilson. The results of the review should be completed soon, she said.

The review is the latest development in the fight between federal land managers in favor of oil and gas drilling and environmental and Native groups wanting to keep the area closed because of its importance to migratory birds and caribou.

The land in question covers roughly 400,000 acres and lies to the northeast of Teshekpuk Lake. It sits within the 4.6-million acre northeast planning area of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.

The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the entire NPR-A contains between 6 and 13 billion barrels of oil, putting it roughly on par with the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to the east.

Last year, the BLM approved a plan opening the sensitive area around Teshekpuk Lake to limited oil and gas drilling. The plan restricted the number of leases in the area, the overall acreage developed, and the time of year when work could be done.

Leases were included in an NPR-A lease sale scheduled for later that year.

But shortly before the sale, a federal judge sided with environmental groups and blocked the sale of leases in the northeast planning area. The judge claimed the BLM had not sufficiently accounted for cumulative effects associated with development in the neighboring northwest planning area.

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