Comment Letter in Support of Oil and Gas Development in the ANWR Coastal Plain

RDC Action Alert 


October 4, 2021 

Ms. Serena Sweet, Project Lead
BLM Alaska State Office
Attn: Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Supplemental EIS
222 West 7th Ave., Stop #13
Anchorage, AK 99513 


Submitted via

Re: Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement pertaining to oil and gas leasing program in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, DOI-BLM-AK-0000-2021-006-EIS

Dear Ms. Sweet:

The Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc. (RDC) is writing to express strong support for oil and gas leases in the non-Wilderness portion of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The September 2019 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) was found to be consistent with conservation of habitat and protection of subsistence and wildlife resources. RDC respectfully encourages the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to halt its efforts to modify the FEIS.

RDC is an Alaskan trade association comprised of individuals and companies from Alaska’s fishing, forestry, mining, oil and gas, and tourism industries. RDC’s membership includes Alaska Native corporations, local communities, organized labor, and industry support firms. RDC’s purpose is to encourage a strong, diversified private sector in Alaska and expand the state’s economic base through the responsible development of our natural resources.

RDC has consistently supported opening the “1002 Area” of ANWR’s coastal plain to oil and gas leasing and responsible development. The coastal plain is considered America’s best onshore prospect for conventional oil and gas discoveries. 

An earlier FEIS found that oil and gas development in the 1002 Area of ANWR, an area set aside for oil and gas exploration, can take place without harming the environment. Alaska is America’s energy warehouse, and we can develop the resources in ANWR while protecting the refuge. The Notice of Intent to prepare a SEIS states the SEIS will include alternatives that “[d]esignate certain areas of the Coastal Plain as open or closed to leasing.” Such alternatives are beyond the Secretary of the Department of Interior’s statutory authority. 

Neither the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) nor the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Tax Act) grant the Secretary the authority to temporarily or permanently “withdraw” any portion of the Section 1002 Area from oil and gas leasing or development. ANILCA specifically identified the Section 1002 Area as a potential area for oil and gas leasing as part of the agreement struck among the State of Alaska, the federal government, and native groups to allocate land within the State. Congress made the final determination in the Tax Act to open the Section 1002 Area for leasing and specified a precise timeframe for the DOI to hold lease sales. The prior Administration complied with the law by holding a lease sale before the first required deadline of January 2021. Neither ANILCA nor the Tax Act includes any mechanism or grant of authority for the DOI Secretary to withdraw some or all of the Section 1002 Area from leasing.

The Tax Act mandates that the DOI make available for leasing the lands within the Section 1002 Area with the “highest potential for the discovery of hydrocarbons.” Pub. L. 115-97, Sec. 20001(c)(B)(II). The DOI may not reduce the area available for leasing in a given lease sale without determining whether the areas it proposes not to lease are those with the “highest potential for the discovery of hydrocarbons.” The DOI has refused to consider permits for seismic exploration that are necessary to develop the information to distinguish between the differing hydrocarbon potential of the lands within the Section 1002 Area. 

The Department of the Interior has taken the legal position in challenges to the January 2021 Lease Sale that the Coastal Plain Oil and Gas Leasing Program Environmental Impact Statement satisfied the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The DOI may not change its position without acknowledging and explaining a change in position.

The development of the SEIS must be guided by federal law regarding the limited circumstances that trigger the duty to supplement as well as the recognition of the adverse socioeconomic impacts that would follow from alternatives that would make development in the Section 1002 Area more difficult or impossible. 

The footprint of production and support facilities are limited to no more than 2,000 surface acres at any given time, including private land holdings inside the coastal plain. Future on-the-ground actions, including potential exploration and development proposals, would require further NEPA analysis based on the site-specific proposal. As a result, decisions evaluated in the initial EIS and its record of decision do not authorize any on-the-ground activity associated with the exploration or development of oil and gas resources on the coastal plain. 

Alaska depends on the responsible development of its natural resources to expand and support its economy. Article VIII of our state constitution mandates that we develop our resources to the maximum benefit for all Alaskans. In fact, it wasn’t until the discovery of oil in the 1950s that led Congress to finally vote in favor of Alaska’s statehood. Through the discovery of oil, Congress realized Alaska could have a healthy economy through the development of its natural resources. Alaska’s North Slope has now produced more than 18 billion barrels of oil since the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay oil field. Oil production has been the economic engine of growth in Alaska.  

In 1980, Congress identified the 1002 Area for its potential oil and gas resources. A 1987 Department of the Interior report fulfilling requirements under ANILCA recommended the 1002 Area for oil and gas development. Since completion of that report, numerous oil fields have been discovered near the coastal plain and oil field technologies have significantly evolved to greatly diminish the footprint of development.

Billions of barrels of oil have been produced on the North Slope without causing any significant harm to the environment. The program area covered by the initial EIS contains an estimated 7.68 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and 7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. This is a valuable resource to Alaska and our nation. Oil and gas from the non-Wilderness portion of the coastal plain is an important resource for meeting our nation’s energy demands and achieving energy independence.

Further, Alaska’s economic lifeline, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS), is now running at only one-quarter capacity. New oil production from the coastal plain has the potential to increase throughput in TAPS, a vital component of American energy infrastructure. Were oil production occurring today on the coastal plain, TAPS potentially could be operating at two-thirds capacity, sharply reducing Alaska’s budget deficit and sustaining public services for Alaskans. In addition, since the non-Wilderness coastal plain is less than 60 miles from TAPS, development of energy resources there is one of the most environmentally-sound ways to increase oil production in Alaska.

Alaskans statewide have strongly supported oil and gas exploration and development on the coastal plain. In fact, polling has consistently shown 65 to 70-plus percent of Alaskans support development of energy resources beneath the 1002 Area. Local residents and the Inupiaq people who actually live adjacent to the 1002 Area also support development. Development of Native-owned lands on the non-Wilderness coastal plain would provide significant economic benefits to Alaska Natives on the North Slope as well as throughout the state through family-wage jobs, direct payment of royalties, and revenue sharing among the Alaska Native corporations and their shareholders. There is no valid reason why we should not be allowed to access the world-class resources within just a miniscule fraction of the coastal plain.

Energy production from the non-Wilderness coastal plain has the potential to offset a decline in Lower 48 shale oil production, which is expected to commence within the decade. Without limited oil development on the coastal plain, America will be forced to once again increase its reliance on foreign imports. With limited development in ANWR, America and Alaska can continue to grow the economy and reduce dependence on foreign oil. 

The initial EIS included a wide range of alternatives which contained measures to avoid or mitigate surface impacts and minimize ecological disturbance throughout the program area. Under the development alternatives, the footprint of production and support facilities would be limited to no more than 2,000 surface acres of the 1.6 million-acre 1002 Area, which is the non-Wilderness portion of the refuge’s coastal plain. That is equivalent to just 0.01 percent of ANWR’s 19.3 million-acres.

Thanks to continuing improvements in technology, practices, and oversight, the oil industry has demonstrated over the past 40 plus years that North Slope energy development and environmental stewardship can and do coexist. The industry has a proven track record of responsible development in sensitive areas, protecting the environment, wildlife and subsistence needs of local residents. It would be beneficial to continue producing oil on the North Slope, which is one of the cleanest energy sources in the world. Oil and gas that isn’t produced in Alaska’s Arctic will be imported from abroad to supply West Coast refineries. Shifting oil production to nations with lower environmental standards and higher carbon emissions will not benefit America nor reduce climate impacts. 

Advances in technology have also greatly reduced the footprint of development in the Arctic. As much as 60-plus square miles can now be developed from a single 12 to 14 acre gravel drill site. New drilling capabilities are being developed that may increase the subsurface development possible from the same size drill site to as much as 150-plus square miles. The net effect is an ever-decreasing impact on surface resources. 

Oil development on a fraction of the coastal plain would create thousands of jobs nationwide, generate billions of dollars in government revenue for public services, keep energy prices for American consumers affordable, and further improve energy security for decades into the future. An FEIS was already completed in September 2019 and it determined that oil and gas development could take place on the coastal plain without harming the refuge. BLM’s decision to stall ANWR development in the 1002 area with a Supplemental EIS is a bad message for investment in Alaska. 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this vital issue important to Alaska’s, and America’s, economic future and energy demands.