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KENAI - A proposal by Unocal and its partners Marathon Oil Company and Cook Inlet Region Inc. to expand natural gas production at the Swanson River Field in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge has drawn a challenge from a coalition of conservation groups.
The project, calling for two satellites to the existing Swanson River Field, is scheduled to be built in stages.
If all stages are accomplished, it would add 11.7 miles of new gravel roads, an adjacent buried pipeline and utility system, an additional 3.1 miles of buried pipeline and utility system adjacent to existing roads, three new drill pads and the upgrade of a fourth, according to a draft environmental impact statement prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Full development would require approximately 278,600 cubic yards of gravel from material sites within the refuge designated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The East Swanson River Satellite would be about five miles east of the main field. The North Swanson River Satellite would be approximately three miles north of the existing field.
The companies have applied to the Fish and Wildlife for a right-of-way permit for the project. The Bureau of Land Management, which issues drilling permits where federal oil and gas leases already exist, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which issues permits for placing fill materials in U.S. waters, also are involved in the permitting process. A public comment period ends Oct. 1.
The Alaska Center for the Environment, Cook Inlet Keeper, Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, Trustees for Alaska and The Wilderness Society have joined forces to challenge the Bush administration's proposal to expand natural gas drilling inside the refuge.
In a press release, the groups contend that expanding drilling in the refuge is "contrary to the public interest," and reflects "a shortsighted energy strategy which emphasizes fossil-fuel production over energy conservation."
"Once again, we see the Bush administration siding with powerful multinational oil and gas corporations at the expense of the public interest," said Bob Shavelson, director of Cook Inlet Keeper, a Homer-based water-quality watchdog group.
Shavelson noted a 2001 contaminants assessment done by Fish and Wildlife biologists that found "a disturbing historical pattern of spills, leaks and pollution" in the relatively small portion of the refuge where oil and gas activities operated by Unocal and Marathon already exists.
According to the environmental groups, Fish and Wildlife biologists have studied wood frog deformities in the vicinity of the Swanson River oil fields. Of 43 national refuges studied, the Kenai refuge showed the highest incidence of frog deformities in the nation, the environmental groups said.
Contacted Monday by the Peninsula Clarion, Unocal declined comment.