Alaska appeals federal rejection of ANWR exploration request

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August 31, 2013

Alaska

By Alex Murray

JUNEAU, Alaska: The state of Alaska has appealed the federal government's rejection of its request to explore in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

The state submitted an application on July 9 requesting an exploration permit to gauge the development potential of the 1.5-million-acre 1002 Area of ANWR for one winter season under the Alaska National Interest Lands and Conservation Act (ANILCA). In the application, the state offered to pay the $50 million cost of three-dimensional seismic testing. However, Fish and Wildlife regional director Geoffrey Haskett denied the request on July 23, saying that the state had applied under an expired section of ANILCA and that Congress must now approve exploration. Haskett based his opinion on a memo sent by then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in the last days of the Clinton administration.[1][2][3][4]

Writing to Daniel Ashe, the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gov. Sean Parnell wrote, "The regional director’s decision was both an inaccurate and restrictive interpretation of federal law." In a statement, he said that should Ashe uphold Haskett's decision, it would signify the federal government's non-interest in ANWR's possible resources. Joe Balash, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Natural Resources, also wrote that the proposal lines up with President Obama's strategy for energy development. The FWS has 30 days from the submission of the appeal to respond.[5]

Meanwhile, Sally Jewell, the new Secretary of the Interior, has been visiting the state, including a night in ANWR. (The Fish and Wildlife Service falls under Jewell's oversight.) Jewell previously rejected a proposal submitted in May that would have seen the state and the Interior Department sharing in a $150 million, seven-year seismic research study.[6]

Development in ANWR is a long-standing issue; in 1995, Congress passed an exploration authorization bill, which was vetoed by President Clinton. A U.S. Geographical Survey report released in the late 1990s estimated that a maximum 10.2 billion barrels of oil could be held in the 1002 Area.[5][3]

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