Public comments are being taken on a draft environmental impact statement for Nordaq Energy’s proposed Shadura natural gas project located within the northwest portion of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.
Nordaq has applied for a right-of-way permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to construct various facilities — a gravel access road and a pad with up to six natural gas wells, among others — on refuge land to explore Cook Inlet Region, Inc.’s mineral leases. The project is near Stormy Lake and Captain Cook State Recreation area.
A Wednesday meeting in Kenai provided residents the opportunity to comment on the proposed plans and view information on the project.
Fish and Wildlife is required to issue Nordaq a permit for the exploration. The draft EIS and public comment period, however, is part of the process to reduce environmental damages potentially caused the project and find the best route for the road and gathering lines.
Four alternative routes for the road and gathering lines were presented in addition to a “no action” alternative, which can not be the selected alternative, but is used in the process for comparative purposes.
“It is just a matter of how it is going to be done; it is not a matter of if,” said David Cameron, senior project manager with Arcadis, a company hired by Nordaq to manage the permitting process.
In the fall of 2010 Nordaq announced its plans to explore for gas in the area and built an ice road to the location where the company drilled an exploratory well.
The pad they want to construct now is about 6,000 feet east of where the exploratory well was located. The pad would hold up to six wells that would use directional drilling to explore in all directions. The pad will be near the existing Swanson River unit and would be built in stages to reduce impacts. The first stage will only include three wells.
“One of the things the Refuge asked us to do was to stage our pad so that we are building a small pad to begin with and ... we aren’t going to the full pad until we verify that the size of the resource that we think is there, is there,” said Glenn Ruckhaus, Nordaq Energy’s vice president of contracts and permitting.
There are four alternative routes proposed to access the pad, including some that branch off the Spur Highway and some that lead in from the Swanson River unit.
Those alternative routes vary in length. Three of them are on refuge land only and are 5.5 miles, 3.3 miles, and 2.7 miles long, respectively. Another alternative is 4.6 miles long and crosses state, refuge and Kenai Peninsula Borough land.
Based on comments received from the public and its analysis, the Fish and Wildlife Service can choose any of the alternatives or blend a combination of them, Cameron said. However, the project differs in some ways from the normal National Environmental Policy Act process because it intersects with the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, he said.
“Basically ANILCA tells them that unless there is a real significant issue with the proposal the proponent submits, they ... have to let them build what they proposed,” he said. “That’s a little different twist than most NEPA documents.”
Nordaq has secured permits for a road to built from the Kenai Spur Highway to the edge of the refuge following their original proposed route with that in mind, Cameron said.
The recently released draft EIS examined the effects of the plan on the area. Information presented Wednesday on “unavoidable adverse effects” of the project included:
■ Short -term generation of dust and pollution during construction.
■ Long-term loss of soil productivity and vegetation due to the road and pad.
■ Increased potential to spread invasive species.
■ Potential loss of wildlife habitat and displacement of some wildlife-dependent recreational opportunities.
■ Increased potential for poaching due to new access.
■ Increased noise levels from construction, quantities of fuel, wastes and hazardous substances and more traffic on public roads.
Potential mitigation measures for those effects included:
■ Dust reduction through water or dust retardants and to minimize the amount of disturbed land.
■ Reseed with native vegetation to reduce habitat fragmentation and to minimize colonization of invasive species.
■ Prepare and implement a plan to monitor facilities.
■ No vegetation clearing would occur during peak of local nesting season.
■ Paint production facilities a color that best matches the surrounding area.
■ Muffle and control exhaust noise, house compressors and generators in building to reduce noise.
A preliminary time line of the Shadura Project estimates a final EIS being released in March and record of decision being made in April. Fish and Wildlife is required to respond in the final EIS to substantive comments on the draft EIS. Comments must be made no later than Feb. 4 by email to Peter Wikoff at email@example.com or by fax to Wikoff at 907-786-3976.
Brian Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org