Alaska Fights Feds Over Oil Exploration

     ANCHORAGE (CN) - Alaska sued the Department of the Interior for rejecting its plan to seismically investigate oil and gas reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
     Alaska claim in Federal Court that state and federal laws permit such exploration, but that Washington did not even look at its plan and are depriving Alaskans of the economic and social benefits of their own resources.
     Attorney General Michael Geraghty authorized the 18-page complaint the Department of the Interior, Secretary Sally Jewel, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, its Director Daniel M. Ashe and its Alaska Regional Director Geoffrey Haskett.
     The state claims it has been denied the right to conduct "non-invasive" and "non-disruptive" 3-D seismic survey of 1.5 million acres known as "area 1002."
     Seismic surveys may involve setting off controlled explosions and registering the results on sensitive machines. The shock wave patterns and echoes can reveal areas deep underground that are liquid or semiliquid, rather than solid rock.
     Alaska says the defendants rejected its "ANILCA Section 1002(d) Exploration Plan and Special Use Permit Application."
     Section 1002 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) authorizes "exploratory activity within the coastal plain" of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - also known as "the 1002 area" - and requires that exploration plans that meet certain requirements be approved by the defendants, Alaska claims.
     It states: "The final [ANILCA] Act is a carefully crafted compromise intended to reflect Congress' struggle for balance between conservation of public lands in Alaska and the opportunity for satisfaction of the economic and social needs of Alaska and Alaskans."
     ANILCA affected "over 100 million acres of federal lands in Alaska" and "added over 9 million acres of public land to the existing Alaska National Wildlife Refuge."
     "[I]ntensely debated" during its development and passage, "Congress ultimately authorized 'exploratory activity within the coastal plain in a manner that avoids significant adverse effects on the fish and wildlife and other resources,' while simultaneously mandating an analysis of the impacts of oil and gas exploration and an ongoing assessment of the fish and wildlife resources of the Refuge."
     The complaint adds: "The Secretary submitted the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Coastal Plain Resource Assessment ('the 1002(h) report') to Congress in April 1987, seven months after the statutory deadline. In it, the secretary stated that 'The 1002 area is the nation's best single opportunity to increase significantly domestic oil production over the next 40 years. It is rated by geologists as the most outstanding petroleum exploration target in the onshore United States.'"
     The same report recommended "an orderly oil and gas leasing program for the entire 1.5 million-acre 1002 area," but Congress has not enacted legislation to address such recommendations.
     In addition, a 1988 Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) was revised in 2010 but has not yet been issued. The CCP included conservation management alternatives, not oil and gas alternatives.
     Secretary Jewell rejected former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell's offer to request up to $50 million in state funds to explore the area, if the U.S. Geological Service would partner with the state.
     Jewell rejected both offers in a letter to Parnell in 2013.
     Alaska seeks declaratory judgment and an injunction.
     It seeks a ruling that the defendants are violating their own regulations and ANILCA, and an order that sets aside any time constraints on submission of exploration plans and special permit applications.
     Alaska is represented by A.G. Geraghty and David Bernhardt of Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, in Washington, D.C.