Compass: NPR-A plan strikes good development-conservation balance

In February, former Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar approved a very fair and balanced plan for the future management of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA), our largest block of public land remaining in the U.S -- a staggering 23 million acres, about the size of Indiana.

As mandated by law, the Interior Secretary opened a 11.8 million acres of the Reserve to oil and gas leasing, including areas with development potential and a corridor for a possible pipeline. At the same time, Secretary Salazar protected 11 million acres within five designated Special Areas that offer important habitat for arctic wildlife, such as our largest caribou herd, the Western Arctic Caribou Herd, and the millions of nesting birds that migrate to the Arctic from six continents.

This balanced management approach was supported by many Alaskans, Native tribes, and conservation groups such as the Alaska Wilderness League. The Bureau of Land Management's public planning process spanned more than two years and generated 400,000 comments, the majority in support of this balanced resource development approach.

But some did not like the departure from the drill-baby-drill everywhere mantra.

Rep. Don Young of Alaska and Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington have introduced H.R. 1964, a bill that would throw out the new NPRA management plan, and waste millions of dollars money on a new hydrocarbon study after USGS recently completed a 2010 oil and gas assessment. Like it or not, that recent assessment shows a substantial 90 percent reduction in potential oil reserves in NPRA. Congressman Young and the state of Alaska are whining about this downward trend, even though this comprehensive assessment was based on 3-D seismic surveys, six federal lease sales, and the most current data from 30 exploration wells.

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to testify against H.R. 1964, because this legislation circumvents public process by nullifying BLM's excellent administrative plan for the NPRA.

Four Alaskans representing different viewpoints -- North Slope Borough Mayor Charlotte Brower, Commissioner Dan Sullivan with Alaska's Department of Natural Resources, Richard Glenn with the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, and I prepared testimony, traveled to D.C., and shared our views with the House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources on May 22.

Unfortunately, Rep. Young was big game hunting in Africa, and couldn't attend his own hearing. He also missed the Keystone Pipeline floor debate and vote. This is nothing new, as Young has one of the worst attendance records in the House of Representatives.

At the hearing I described the wonders of the NPRA based on 600 miles of explorations by canoe and on foot for the "On Arctic Ground" book project. I discussed the importance of protecting the wildlife, scenic, recreational, historical and subsistence values of the NPRA through the designation and expansion of five special areas.

During my three expeditions, we traveled through some of the wildest and most beautiful country remaining in America. In such a vast region there is room for careful resource development while protecting the significant conservation values that we all cherish.

Debbie S. Miller is the author of many books about Alaska including "On Arctic Ground: Tracking Time Through Alaska's National Petroleum Reserve" (Braided River, 2012). Web site,