Kenai left off GAO list of oil and gas producing refuges

Posted: Thursday, November 15, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Kenai National Wildlife Refuge was left off a government list in a report of refuges where federally owned oil and gas is produced.

The General Accounting Office's report lists eight refuges nationwide where federally owned oil and gas is produced. But the Kenai refuge was not among them even though it fits the description, according to Greg Noble, the federal Bureau of Land Management's petroleum engineer in Alaska.

The report was requested by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who used it to argue against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. He said only a few refuges produce federal oil, and no new leases have been issued for 35 years.

Roger Herrera, with the pro-drilling group Arctic Power, said the GAO's dropping of Kenai was ''a very convenient mistake'' for Markey. That's because the refuge represents ''a very clear example'' of the compatibility of oil work and wildlife.

Alfredo Gomez, an analyst with the GAO, said investigators were told by the Kenai refuge manager that the oil and gas rights underlying the old federal leases were transferred to a regional Native corporation. So the GAO didn't include the refuge in its list of eight refuges where federally owned oil and gas is produced.

Noble said some mineral rights on the refuge are held by Cook Inlet Region Inc., the Anchorage-area Native corporation. But mineral rights to the Swanson River and Beaver Creek fields north of Soldotna are still owned by the federal government, he said.

''They're big oil fields,'' Noble said. The oil produced helps supply the refining industry on the Kenai Peninsula while the natural gas helps supply Anchorage.

The Kenai refuge began as the Kenai National Moose Range in 1941. Richfield Oil Corp. filed for leases on the refuge in 1954 and struck oil in 1957. In 1958, Interior Secretary Fred Seaton announced that the northern half of the range would be leased but the southern half closed, according to Anchorage author Jack Roderick's history of Alaska oil work.

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