Did you know that under HB 82, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) would be able to authorize lateral drilling and fracking for oil and gas development beneath all of the areas that the state legislature has specifically set aside for special protection? This includes State Game Sanctuaries, State Game Refuges, State Parks, and State Critical Habitat Areas. Lateral drilling technology is impressive. Wells can extend over ten miles from a drill site. To understand the potential of an area, seismic surveys must be conducted. This means that, under the terms of HB 82, a vast increase in seismic testing - generally through the use of explosives - could be authorized in sanctuaries, refuges, parks and critical habitat areas all across the state.
HB 82 has received an initial hearing in the House Fisheries Committee and will be heard again on Tuesday, May 4 at 10:00 a.m. The Dunleavy administration is pushing this bill as a way to increase state royalties from oil and gas development, implying that the lands and waters with surface use protections offer little value to the state. From the HB 82 presentation materials by DNR: “Lands with surface-use restrictions can still provide revenue in the form of lease sale bids, annual rental payments, and royalties if made available for subsurface-only development.” This statement is subtle but is a clear sign that DNR is a more important agency to the Dunleavy Administration than ADF&G. Nevermind that ADF&G has helped generate billions of dollars in value for the state and the economy through protecting the fish and game resources that utilize state protected areas.
HB 82 would shift power from the people of Alaska to an agency. Elected representatives of Alaskans got together through the legislative process and specifically, intentionally and deliberately protected state areas for a reason and it was not to just protect the skim surface while allowing oil and gas rigs to ring them round and probe beneath their surface with fracking fluids. It was not with a caveat to allow oil and gas interests to disturb and displace species via seismic explosions. It was to protect the whole area. This bill is interesting because it implies a certain stop-at-nothing voracity within the oil and gas sector - and hence DNR. It implies that Dunleavy will disregard the intent of the legislature in protecting areas in order to appease this industry.
This bill is part of a trio of bills designed as a DNR power-grab. In addition to HB 82 (and its companion SB 62 - currently in Senate Finance) there is HB 98/SB 85 and SB 97/HB 120.
HB 98/SB 85 FOREST LAND USE PLANS; TIMBER SALES This bill increases the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) power to offer state forest land for timber harvest. The state canceled a large timber sale due to an appeal to a Forest Land Use Plan in 2017 - Forest land use plans, also known as FLUPs, are one of the final steps before a harvest moves forward. FLUPs provide guidelines like harvest methods and mitigation measures and serve as a last opportunity for public comment and agency consultation. HB 98 would make FLUPs non-appealable or subject to reconsideration. This bill would streamline vast export timber production in Southeast and the Mat-Su valley.
SB 97 STATE LAND SALES AND LEASES; RIVERS This bill increases the authority of DNR to lease and sell state land for commercial development purposes, and to override land protected use designations in area management plans. It follows a trend with Dunleavy bills to increase the power of DNR to do things unilaterally. The section of SB 97, which sought to repeal the legislatively designated Recreational Rivers protection for Mat-Su rivers, has proven too controversial and will be taken out of the bill. The House Companion is HB 120.
There is a trend in all of these bills to increase the authority within DNR to lease or sell land for development while decreasing public involvement and overstepping legislative designations.
Thanks for your attention to these matters,
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