U.S. agency wants to regulate oil & gas on refuges; Alaska politician objects

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Headquarters Lake at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. ( M. Scott Moon / AP )
Headquarters Lake at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. ( M. Scott Moon / AP )
About 200 national wildlife refuges have oil and gas development. Among them: the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the only refuge in Alaska with active petroleum extraction.

The agency that manages refuges, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wants rules to regulate that activity. Alaska Congressman Don Young doesn’t like the idea, and he wasn’t quiet about it at a Congressional hearing today.

Kip Knudson, Gov. Sean Parnell’s appointee in Washington, laid out the state’s case to a House Natural Resources subcommittee. He said Alaska should be exempt from any new regulation by the Fish and Wildlife Service. It would only interfere with the promises of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Knudson said. Besides, he said, it’s just a bad idea.

“If the goal of the rule, or these rules pondered is to improve oil and gas activity, I’m going to predict failure,” he said. ”And if the goal of the rule is to slow oil and gas activity I’m going to predict near perfect success.”

Listen to the report by Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Radio Network:

Cook Inlet Region Incorporated owns about 200,000 acres of subsurface rights in the Kenai Refuge, some leased now for exploration and production. CIRI executive Ethan Schutt says the state provides all the regulation they need.

“We do not need an additional layer of financial burden. We do not need an additional layer of public comment for development of private oil and gas resources in the National Wildlife Refuge System,” he said.

The issue is also a hot one for Louisiana. To make the case for federal regulation, Noah Matson from Defenders of Wildlife showed the panel slides of rusty, leaky pipelines and oozing barrels that he said were on Louisiana Refuges. One of his favorites: A leaking tank repaired with duct tape and garbage bag. (Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., said the method didn’t deserve scorn because, he said, it appeared to be preventing a spill.)

On the committee, Republicans argued the Fish and Wildlife Service had no authority to impose regulations while Democrats said such rules are long overdue. The hearing was placid until Congressman Don Young showed up. He took on Deputy Fish and Wildlife Director Steve Guertin.

Guertin: We’re envisioning now, through this propose rulemaking, taking a lot of public input …

Young: Let me stop there. WHAT PUBLIC? You’re going to hear from the Sierra Club? You’re going to hear from the ‘save the Earth club’? Are you going to listen and give credit to those that live there and were guaranteed by Congress the right to develop their resources?

Young suspects environmental groups are behind the agency’s move for regulation, and he pressed Guertin to admit it.

Young: The idea about taking and not allowing people to drill on these refuges … where did it come from?

Guertin: Again, we’re not talking about denying them access to their minerals …

Young: Where did this restriction come from? WHOSE IDEA WAS IT?

Guertin: I can’t point to a single individual ….

Young: WHICH GROUP?

Guertin eventually named the Government Accountability Office. The GAO has twice recommended the service get a better handle on oil and gas operations in refuges. Schutt, the CIRI executive, says even without new rules, Fish and Wildlife requires bonds and special use permits of CIRI’s leasees. On the Kenai, at least, Schutt says the service is already regulating.

Related stories from around the Arctic:

Canada: Canada eyes Arctic reindeer reserve for oil and gas, The Canadian Press

Finland: Finland EU’s third largest user of renewable energy, Yle News

Iceland:  Icelandic Energy: Is change on the way?, Blog by Mia Bennett

Norway:  Norway’s election result and the implications for the Lofoten Islands, Blog by Mia Bennett

Sweden:  Sweden shares top global energy ranking, Radio Sweden

United States:  Ex-commissioner calls for Alaska energy mega-projects analysis, and ‘call bluff’ on North Slope gasline, Alaska Dispatch

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