Developing Alaska's Energy Resources:

Actions Needed To Stimulate Research and Improve Wetlands Permit Processing

EMD-82-44: Published: Jun 17, 1982. Publicly Released: Jun 17, 1982.

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To determine if federal agencies are advancing environmentally sound approaches to energy exploration and development, GAO evaluated: (1) the results of oil- and gas-related experience on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, the only federal land in Alaska where significant production has occurred; (2) the measures used in Alaska to prohibit exploratory drilling during certain months of the year and to control drilling waste disposal; (3) the adequacy of research to lessen the impacts of energy development; and (4) wetlands permitting, which is of crucial importance to energy development on all Alaskan lands.

Additional research is needed to evaluate the impacts of oil- and gas-related activity in Alaska as a basis for promoting environmentally sound approaches to future development without unnecessarily increasing its cost. GAO found that two costly and controversial restrictions are being widely applied to energy exploration in the Arctic; however, there has not been adequate research to support either the imposition or the removal of these restrictions. Use of site-specific research findings would allow refinement of environmental protection controls suitable to the unique characteristics of the lands on which they are applied, and this would minimize universal or blanket stipulations where they are not necessary. The Army Corps of Engineers has been slow in processing wetlands permits, which are required for many oil and gas projects in Alaska, and has frequently included controversial and costly conditions in its permits without requiring substantiation of their need through research findings and site-specific data.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: S.373 was approved by the President on July 31, 1984 (P.L. 98-373).

    Matter: Congress should provide for three critical elements: coordination, prioritization, and sources of funding for research to evaluate the impacts of energy development in the Arctic.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Interior has provided documentation of several projects in which it is gathering information that will enable site-specific stipulations. Interior also cited interagency coordination mandated by P.L. 98-373 as an aid in collecting the data. Actual verification by GAO will require future audit work.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should utilize existing research findings and site-specific data to the maximum extent possible and, after a source of further funding is worked out, direct and use additional site-specific research in the application of stipulations to future Alaskan energy projects. This should include using such data as a basis for determining whether the seasonal drilling restriction should be continued as a general stipulation for individual tracts.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Corps of Engineers has revised its regulations reducing the length of extensions it will grant from 75 to 30 days, which should, to a large degree, implement this recommendation. Audit work from Alaska would be required to further substantiate this situation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should only grant the State of Alaska extensions to the public comment period when they are adequately justified and use research findings and site-specific data to the maximum extent possible in determining the need for proposed stipulations in future permits.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should require that federal agencies support the need for proposed permit stipulations to the maximum extent possible with site-specific data and relevant research findings.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: A change in agency procedures effectively eliminates the public notice recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Army should direct the Chief of Engineers to have the Corps' Alaska District management periodically summarize the time required to issue public notices and enforce the 15-day timeframe established by law.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense: Department of the Army


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