Alaska state officials yesterday petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service to reconsider its decision to bar the state from conducting seismic studies in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
In a letter to FWS Director Daniel Ashe, the state urged the Obama administration to reconsider and reverse an earlier ruling on the state's proposal to conduct state-of-the-art exploration in the refuge's 1.5-million-acre coastal plain.
"I am confident the director will take a hard look at that decision, in light of the state's strong legal position and the enormous opportunity the state is offering to the nation in its exploration plan," Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R) said in a statement.
"Fundamentally, the question remains -- 'Why doesn't the current administration want to know more about ANWR's natural resource potential?'"
Alaska's appeal, filed by Joseph Balash, acting commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, is the latest administrative volley between the state and federal government over ANWR exploration.
Balash asked FWS to respond to the state's letter within 30 days. If the request is rejected, the state is likely to head to the courts to gain access to the refuge.
According to a 15-year-old U.S. Geological Survey report, ANWR's 1002 area could contain up to 10.2 billion barrels of oil. The state has argued that updated 3-D exploration technology is likely to uncover far more oil resources in the refuge.
The ongoing debate over ANWR exploration centers around the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. State officials argue that Section 1002(e) of the law allows anyone to "submit one or more plans for exploratory activity" in the refuge and requires the administration to publish and hold hearings on the research plan.
Interior Department officials have repeatedly rejected that legal interpretation. They have opposed oil exploration in ANWR and insisted that federal law bars seismic work without congressional approval.
The Fish and Wildlife Service is drafting a conservation plan for the refuge that is expected to recommend wilderness protections for the oil-rich coastal plain.
In May, Alaska officials asked Interior to partner with the state on a seven-year seismic research program in ANWR and offered to share the $150 million cost of the studies.
When Interior Secretary Sally Jewell snubbed that request, the state filed a 240-page oil and gas exploration plan for the refuge under ANILC (EnergyWire, July 10).
Late last month, FWS Regional Director Geoffrey Haskett rejected Alaska's proposal and dismissed the state's reading of the law citing a Clinton administration-era legal analysis (EnergyWire, July 29).