State and DOE to conduct tundra study

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) The U.S. Department of Energy will assist the state of Alaska in the first scientifically-based study to determine when oil companies can transport equipment over the Arctic tundra without damaging it.

The study will replace a 30-year-old 'ad hoc' rule with a science-based model, according to Petroleum News.

Assistant Secretary of Energy for Fossil Energy Mike Smith said the project will result in better protection for the tundra.

''Sound science offers the best way to protect sensitive environments. Today, however, all we have is a general 'rule of thumb' for determining when it is environmentally safe to move oil exploration equipment across the Arctic tundra,'' he said in a statement.

Researchers plan to develop an ecological model that accounts for factors such as snow depth, snow density, ground hardness and the type of vegetation and soil, and how they interact to protect the tundra from being compacted or deformed.

The standard now limits oil exploration and ice road construction to time periods when there is a minimum of 12 inches of frozen ground and six inches of snow cover over the tundra.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is responsible for determining when the tundra is ready for cross-country vehicle travel related to oil exploration and development.

The Energy Department will provide $270,000 for the study. Another $70,000 in funding and technical services is being provided by Total, Anadarko Petroleum, ConocoPhillips and Yale University.

Research personnel from Yale and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources will carry out the analyses and modeling. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory will provide researchers to assist in evaluating the study's design effectiveness and the accuracy of the modeling techniques.

In recent years, the standard has limited the number of days during the winter work season in which oil exploration activities can occur in the northern region of Alaska. Last year exploration activity was permitted for only 103 days.

If the scientific studies provide a more credible assessment of the tundra's resistance to damage, it may be possible to extend the number of workdays without harming the environment, according to DOE.

The new tundra study will be conducted during the autumn and winter of 2003 and the summer of 2004.

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