Unocal proposal calls drilling on Kenai refuge

Posted: Friday, March 09, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- Unocal wants to develop satellites to the Swanson River Oil Field and could be drilling exploratory wells by 2002, federal officials said.

The two satellite fields lie north and east of the present Swanson River field and inside the boundaries of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Jim Hall, deputy refuge manager, said Unocal has applied to drill from three gravel pads near Scaup Lake, just north of Captain Cook State Park, and from three pads surrounding Krein Lake, just west of the Swanson River canoe trails.

Previous exploration has been done near Scaup Lake, and one of the proposed drilling sites is an existing pad where an old well struck natural gas. The other two pads would be new. No road exists yet to the existing pad.

To reach the drill sites, Unocal proposes to build roughly 13 miles of gravel roads and a bridge across the Swanson River just north of Krein Lake. Access would be from existing roads in the Swanson River field. Finding oil or gas, Unocal would propose building production facilities by the drill sites and buried pipelines along the new roads.

The Kenai refuge holds surface rights to most of the land, but Cook Inlet Region Inc., an Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act regional corporation, holds most of the subsurface oil and gas rights. Tyonek Native Corp. holds some surface rights on the route to the northern satellite, Hall said. Unocal holds a federal oil and gas lease for the Birch Creek Unit by Scaup Lake.

''This will be a venture into the wilderness,'' Brian Anderson, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's realty division in Anchorage, told the Peninsula Clarion.

Biologists said the areas Unocal wants to explore are wetlands, birch and spruce forest.

''We're concerned about moose habitat,'' Hall said. ''We're concerned about fisheries issues, because this is a significant fishery watershed, the Swanson River. We're concerned about brown bears. We're concerned about forest-breeding birds. We're concerned about all the critters until we get a chance to look and see what's there.

''We want to assure that they get their oil and gas resource, because that's an economic boon to them, and we want to protect fish and wildlife because that's our job.''

Because the development will have a significant impact on the human environment, Fish and Wildlife must develop an environmental impact statement, including public hearings and comments, Hall said.

Unocal submitted its application Jan. 29, beginning a 60-day clock for Fish and Wildlife to determine whether the application is complete. Once the application is deemed complete, Fish and Wildlife has 18 months to complete the environmental review and issue a right-of-way permit, Anderson said. Unocal must also obtain state and federal drilling permits, a wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a permit for the Swanson River bridge from the U.S. Coast Guard.

Fish and Wildlife has scheduled public meetings on Unocal's application for March 13 at 7 p.m. at the Spenard Community Recreation Center in Anchorage and for March 15 at 7 p.m. at the Soldotna Senior Center.

Unocal officials could not be reached for comment.

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