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USFWS & EPA Colville River Bridge Agreement Clears Way for NPR-A Production

USFWS, EPA Agree in Principle to Road Access into NPR-A with Colville River Bridge

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today welcomed the agreement in principle between Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow construction of a road across the Colville River, clearing the way for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to approve the first oil and natural gas production from the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A). 

“This agreement is long overdue, but no less welcomed,” Murkowski said. “With this agreement I expect the Corps to move quickly to approve the proposed bridge and allow access to the oil and natural gas reserves within the National Petroleum Reserve.

That approval will finally be a reality, along with the jobs, federal revenue and energy security that have long been more promise than reality.”  

The agreement between the EPA and USFWS on ConocoPhillips’ proposed bridge across the Colville River positions the CD-5 project for final approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers within a matter of weeks.

Once final approval is granted, ConocoPhillips can finally begin developing its leases at the CD-5 oilfield on the eastern edge of NPR-A. ConocoPhillips, along with its partner Anadarko Petroleum, has been working for nearly a decade to develop the oil and gas reserves at CD-5, a satellite of ConocoPhillips’ Alpine field on the western edge of the North Slope.

“I’ve had numerous disagreements with the administration on Alaska issues, but I appreciate the involvement of the White House and the Interior Department in removing this particular roadblock to improving our nation’s energy security,” Murkowski said. “ I hope this important step will lead to further improvements in how applications to drill for oil in Alaska are handled and help the president carry out his May 14 pledge to accelerate development within the NPR-A.”

  Last year, the Corps rejected a plan by ConocoPhillips to construct a four-mile-long gravel road and bridge across the Colville River to connect CD-5 to the Alpine production facilities. The rejection came after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), without public notice or process, designated the Colville River as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance (ARNI).

The reversal by the agencies represents a major hurdle for the project. In 2004, the Bureau of Land Management and cooperating agencies completed an environmental impact statement that recommended a bridge-based crossing of the Colville. The bridge also has been supported by the North Slope Borough; the village of Nuiqsut; the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., which owns the subsurface rights to CD-5; and the Alaska Native village corporation, Kuukpik Corp. which owns the surface rights at CD-5.

As the ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Murkowski has pressed the Corps and the Obama administration, with increasing frequency and intensity, for the past two years to resolve the roadblocks to oil and gas development in NPR-A:

  • On December 10, 2010, Murkowski wrote to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy to express her concerns about Corps’ decision to deny ConocoPhillips a permit to bridge the Colville River.
  • On December 20, 2010, Murkowski publicly called on EPA Administrator Jackson to explain why the agency determined the Colville River deserved the designation of a Aquatic Resource of National Importance (ARNI), which triggered stricter environmental regulation.
  • Also in December 2010, and again in September 2011, Murkowski sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy requesting a timely resolution of the permitting roadblocks facing the CD-5 project.
  • On March 2, Murkowski questioned Interior Secretary Salazar about the department’s commitment to developing NPR-A’s oil and gas resources and the affect of the EPA designating the Colville River as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance. Murkowski’s questioning begins at the 44:30 minute mark.
  • On March 16, Murkowski grilled EPA Administrator Jackson on why it was taking years to get required air permits for oil and gas projects in Alaska. Murkowski’s questioning begins at the 29:48 minute mark and again at the 99:29 minute mark.
  • As a direct result of Murkowski’s appeal to the While House and Interior Secretary Salazar, Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes indicated the department’s support for the road and bridge approach in a May 3, 2011, letter to the Corps.
  • In August, Murkowski brought Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Sen. Jack Reed, D-Rhode Island, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with oversight of the Interior Department’s budget, to Alaska to see the CD-5 project firsthand.
  • In September, Murkowski sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy requesting a timely resolution of the permitting roadblocks facing the CD-5 project.
  • At an October 12, Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on federal disaster response, Murkowski pressed Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Darcy on the Corps’ overdue decision on CD-5. The video is available here, Murkowski’s exchange with Darcy begins at the 66:06-minute mark.

On December 5, the EPA and USFWS announced an agreement in principle to ConocoPhillips’ proposal to access its CD-5 project with a bridge across the Colville River.

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