A top Alaska official and the North Slope Borough mayor have a message for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Please get on with permitting Exxon Mobil's proposed Point Thomson project.
In a joint letter to the Corps dated Aug. 27, state Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan and borough Mayor Charlotte Brower said a timely "record of decision" is critical for work to begin on a project.
Exxon Mobil is seeking a wetlands permit for construction of facilities to produce natural gas hydrates from Point Thomson, a rich but undeveloped oil and gas field on the North Slope.
Corps officials have said they might or might not be able to make their Sept. 21 target date for rendering a decision on the permit application. They have warned that the target date could slip by two months.
Developing Point Thomson has long been a state priority.
On July 28, Sullivan and Brower signed a "memorandum of understanding" to coordinate on permitting and authorizations for oil and gas projects on the Slope.
In their letter to the Corps, made public with an Aug. 29 DNR press release, the commissioner and mayor said they were writing to "express our concern over the potential delay" of the Point Thomson record of decision.
Previous federal delays already have set back first production from the field by a year, costing hundreds of jobs and delaying new barrels into the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, the letter said. As it stands now, Exxon Mobil aims to begin production by the winter of 2015-16.
"Point Thomson is the largest undeveloped oil and gas field in Alaska," the letter said. "Timely completion of the (Record of Decision) is important to keep Point Thomson on schedule for development -- in particular, to enable construction to begin this winter."
The letter further said the state and borough already have made significant progress toward permitting the project. The borough has approved a Point Thomson master plan and rezone ordinance, described as a "major milestone" in acquiring local permits.
"The State is prioritizing the issuance of approximately 100 State permits and authorizations that are required to bring the Point Thomson project online and will begin issuing these permits next month," the letter said.
But delayed issuance of the Corps permit could hold up state permit decisions that are contingent upon the federal permit, the letter said.