Oil and Gas Potential in the William O. Douglas Arctic Wildlife Range

EMD-80-104: Published: Jul 18, 1980. Publicly Released: Jul 25, 1980.

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An examination was undertaken of the Interior Department's study of the oil and gas potential of the William O. Douglas Arctic Wildlife Range to assure that all pertinent data is being provided without modification or change. The initial input to Interior's study came from a 12-member Geologic Assessment Committee composed of 11 U.S. Geological Survey employees, and 1 member from the State of Alaska Government, all reportedly experts with considerable experience in Alaskan geology. There was no industry representation, although many of the members were former industry employees. This Committee, using available data and personal expertise about the Range and adjacent areas, formed a consensus of opinion about the geological parameters necessary to determine the probability of the existence of oil and gas in areas felt to have some potential within the Range. The Geologic Assessment Committee designated 10 likely stratigraphic areas which it felt had some potential for oil and gas. The Committee then assessed the probability of the various geologic factors affecting a hydrocarbon deposit. A consensus was reached, and all of these factors were run through the computer using the same program that was employed in assessing the national petroleum reserves in Alaska.

GAO was hampered in its review by the Interior Department's refusal to provide copies of all documentation. However, from its examination of the available data and records, GAO found that the Committee convened by the U.S. Geological Survey consisted of an impressive body of expertise, and they appear to have been given full independence in performing their appraisal. Many changes were made to the study data along the way, some documented, and some not documented. But the changes were made by the Committee members in an attempt to refine the data, and most of the Committee members were satisfied with the estimates developed. It was also the view of most of the Committee members that the Range has very high oil and gas potential. This was not reflected in the Department of the Interior's news release on its study. Thus, GAO does not believe that the closing of the range to oil and gas exploration is supportable. The information developed by the Survey Committee supports a decision for exploration to acquire more data before a decision is reached.

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