Trans-Alaska Pipeline

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management will hold its annual lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on Dec. 11, the agency announced. Three hundred and fifty tracts covering 3.98 million acres will be offered for competitive bid.

In a new development, BLM said it will release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement this Friday, Nov. 22, on a revised land management plan for the petroleum reserve that will likely make prospective new lands available for oil and gas exploration in future lease sales.

The federal sale in December will occur two days after the state of Alaska offers unleased state land east of the petroleum reserve in the central North Slope. State submerged lands in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea. That sale is planned Dec. 9.

BLM and the state annually offer unleased tracts on both state lands and the petroleum reserve. The NPR-A sale is in parts of the petroleum reserve that are open to oil and gas development, mostly in the northeast part of the reserve.

Several oil discoveries have been made in the northeast NPR-A in recent years. Two relatively small projects are now producing and two more are in development, all by ConocoPhillips.

“This (BLM lease sale) is one of several actions we are taking to further expand energy development in Alaska,” BLM Alaska State Director Chad Padgett said in a statement.

The December sale will be the 15th oil and gas lease sale in the NPR-A since 1999. There are currently 215 leases covering more than 1.5 million acres in the NPR-A. Bids received for the 14 previous sales generated more than $283 million, half of which was paid to the State of Alaska under terms of federal law.

This could change for future lease sales but the December sale will still exclude several areas of high oil and gas potential in the northernmost area of the NPR-A near the Beaufort Sea coast. The areas are given a protected status because of ecologically sensitive wetlands under an Integrated Activity Plan approved in 2013 under the previous federal administration of President Barack Obama.

The new administration, led by President Donald Trump, plans revise the plan and make more acreage available for leasing, but no changes have been made so far. “We are working on a new Integrated Activity Plan for the NPR-A, Padgett said, which is to be released Friday.

“With advancements in drilling technology (mainly horizontal extended-reach wells) it was prudent to develop a new plan that provides for greater economic development of our resources while still providing protections for important resources, such as subsistence uses,” he said.

The 350 tracts being offered were designated as available for development in the 2013 NPR-A Integrated Activity Plan/Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision, BLM said.

The 23-million-acre NPR-A covers much of the western North Slope. The reserve was created in 1923 by President Warren Harding to become a petroleum reserve for the U.S. Navy. Despite extensive exploration, no commercial oil deposits were found until recent years, and those are in the northeast part of the NPR-A.

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