None other than the venerable Sierra Club has stepped up the fight against the state's plans to punch a 100-mile gravel road through the Arctic wilderness to open oil and gas fields on the edge of the United States' Alaska petroleum reserve.
Umiat is a former U.S. Air Force and Navy base that decades ago supported oil exploration for the military in the 23-million-acre National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Now a refueling stop for aircraft and a summer camp for scientists, Umiat is located on the Colville River about 150 miles southeast of Barrow. Much of the proposed road would follow the Itkillik River heading north and west off the Dalton Highway near Galbraith Lake.
"The purpose of the project is to allow year-round access for exploitation of oil and gas resources in the area, including access for heavy equipment and 'industrial traffic in arctic conditions', according to the Environmental Impact Statement," the Sierra Club writes.
"Our goal is to identify examples of the best and worst projects; this is not a definitive review by any means," Sierra Club spokesperson Eddie Scher wrote in an email to Alaska Dispatch. "We worked with Sierra Club State chapters to compile a list of projects that typify the good, bad and ugly of transportation funding."
The Umiat road is one part of Gov. Sean Parnell's Roads to Resources initiative, a group of projects which has been criticized by environmental groups. The state has sunk tens of millions of dollars on studies of Umiat, but the full cost is pegged at somewhere around $500 million. Critics say it's likely that the Umiat road won't lead to new development, in part because tapping commercial oil in the region is so costly.
Contact Alex DeMarban at email@example.com