BP agrees to let tourists travel to Arctic Ocean

Posted: Tuesday, April 30, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- BP Exploration (Alaska) Inc. has relented and will allow tour operators to drive visitors to the shores of the Arctic Ocean.

The oil company, citing security concerns, announced last month that it would close the seven-mile road leading from Deadhorse to the Arctic Ocean.

Tour companies have been using the road for years for guided trips to the North Slope. About 5,000 visitors travel the road to the ocean each year.

BP's land lease with the state says the company cannot restrict access to the state's tidelands, said Pat Pourchot, commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

''They have the right to alter lease terms in emergency situations, such as when a rig turns over, moving a module, extreme weather conditions, or a national emergency situation,'' Pourchot told the Fairbanks Daily News Miner. ''In our estimation BP did not warrant the closure.''

BP said it wanted to end access because of security concerns for the safety of the oil fields, workers and the environment in the aftermath of Sept. 11.

The decision to keep the road open came after talks between the state and BP. Pourchot said a better solution would be to add security measures. BP agreed, but neither the company nor Pourchot would specify what those measures would be.

''We made a number of suggestions,'' Pourchot said.

However, one restriction will go forward, -- tour companies will not be able to tour the oil fields, said Ronnie Chappell, BP spokesman.

BP will notify operators by letter to let them know of the decision, Chappell said. The companies will have to agree to the new security conditions, and tour company contracts with BP will be amended to reflect that, he said.

''We anticipate there will be access to the Arctic Ocean every day of the week,'' Chappell said. Tours usually occur from late May to early September.

BP will reserve the right to cancel, delay or reschedule tours should an emergency arise, Chappell said.

''It depends on what's going on in the world,'' Chappell said.

The announcement is good news for Brett Carlson, an owner of Northern Alaska Tour Co. The company planned to start taking tourists north in the third week of May, he said.

''People have strong images about getting to the Arctic Ocean,'' Carlson said. The company's Prudhoe Bay package is one of 10 tours offered, but it accounts for about half of the company's business, Carlson said. The company is still trying to recover from losses related to the Sept. 11 attacks, he said.

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