Work approved in Kenai refuge

Apache Corp. and Alaska-based independent NordAq Energy have been given federal approvals for exploration and development work in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, according to Cook Inlet Region, Inc., the owner of mineral leases in the refuge.

Cook Inlet Region Inc., or CIRI, the Alaska Native regional corporation for Southcentral, published details in its corporate newsletter of Apache’s plan to do 3-D seismic work on 142,000 acres of inholdings owned by CIRI and leased to Apache within the refuge, as well as NordAq’s development of a gas discovery in the refuge. That also is on subsurface mineral lands owned by the corporation.

Jason Moore, spokesperson for CIRI, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved a Record of Decision on an environmental impact statement, or EIS, for a road into the refuge to NordAq’s leases, which is the most important approval needed.

A right-of-way for the road is still needed, said Larry Bell, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service. Bell said the right-of-way for a 4.3-mile access road is still being processed but that there are no apparent hurdles now that the EIS is complete.

NordAq also would build a pipeline along the right-of-way that would reach an existing nearby pipeline, but outside the refuge boundary.

NordAq also must finalize a federal Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permit. The company is working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on that permit.

NordAq has not released estimates of gas reserves for the gas discovery, but the company has filed for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits for facilities capable of producing up to 50 million cubic feet per day.

Apache’s plan for 3-D seismic on CIRI-owned mineral lands within the refuge is part of the company’s multi-year program to do seismic profiling across the Cook Inlet basin. The company entered into an agreement last year to explore on lands owned by CIRI including inholdings in the refuge.

Apache spokesperson Lisa Parker said the company is still defining targets within the refuge for the seismic profiling program.

“Right now we’re looking at the geologic data to better focus our seismic,” Parker said.

In its newsletter, CIRI said the work, which will be done in winter, will take several years to complete. 

The Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, has seen oil and gas activity for decades and the state’s oldest oil field, the Swanson River field, is still producing from wells within the refuge.

CIRI is authorized to select federal lands in Southcentral Alaska under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, including certain mineral rights in federal conservation units like wildlife refuges.

Under federal law the Department of the Interior, which manages wildlife refuges, must grant Alaska Native corporations access to lands they own within refuges but can set terms and conditions for access to minimize environmental effects.

An exception to this is with Arctic Slope Regional Corp., which owns subsurface lands within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, on the North Slope. Congress has provided that it must pass special legislation for any oil and gas development within ANWR, including the ASRC inholdings.

CIRI owns other lands with gas production in Southcentral Alaska and is engaged in other Alaska projects such as wind energy and an underground coal gasification project in addition to non-energy ventures such as commercial real estate.

Tim Bradner can be reached at tim.bradner@alaskajournal.com.

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