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U.S. drops oil development plan for remote Alaska

ANCHORAGE Alaska, May 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Monday dropped plans to allow development of remote federal land in northern Alaska because the oil and gas industry has little interest in exploring the highly inaccessible region.

The 9.2-million acre (3.7 million hectare) area is far west of the much-debated Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The land the BLM has decided is too desolate to develop is part of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve but is not part of the ANWR.

Development of ANWR has stalled in the U.S. Congress.

“We did not have a lot of push from industry or anything like that,” said Sharon Wilson, a BLM spokeswoman in Alaska.

The area is distant from any roads, existing pipelines or oil fields. It is all inland, and while in northern Alaska, it is in the southern portion of the National Petroleum Reserve and does not touch the Arctic Ocean.

Other portions of the National Petroleum Reserve -- which have about 23 million acres in all -- nearer to Arctic are more accessible and have been developed.

Some mining interests were upset about the BLM decision to stop plans to develop the land in northern and western Alaska but it was too remote for oil and gas development, oil industry advocates said.

“We were thinking if we were to finish the plan, it would take at least 20 years, probably, before anything would develop,” said Wilson, who also mentioned that there are no pipelines to the area.

Inupiat Eskimo communities in the region were also concerned about possible impacts of development on the Western Arctic caribou herd, which calves there, the BLM said.


Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association, said he was disappointed with the BLM decision.

“That area has extreme positive potential for both minerals and coal. This nation needs more of both of those now than ever before,” he said.

Wilson said the BLM considered the mining possibilities, as well as oil and gas, but decided the area was too remote.

The area is rich in zinc, copper and lead and probably silver and gold, Borell said.

"It's an extension of the best of rocks that Red Dog is sitting on," referring to Teck Cominco's TCKb.TO Red Dog Mine in northwest Alaska, the world's largest zinc producer.

Wilson said the BLM is focused on development plans for the northeast and northwest sections of the reserve.

She said the agency will soon release a revised plan for expanded oil and gas development in the northeast section of the petroleum reserve. This is an area where oil potential is high but there are also heightened concerns of risks to the ecologically sensitive wetlands adjacent to vast Teshekpuk Lake.

The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska stretches from the Colville River in the middle of the North Slope to the Chukchi Sea on the northwestern coast and the Brooks Range in the south. At 23 million acres -- about the size of Indiana -- it is the nation’s largest federal land unit.