WCS North America

Energy Development on Alaska's North Slope

Currently, oil development on the North Slope is concentrated in the central Arctic Coastal Plain between Prudhoe Bay to the east and the Colville River to the west and includes the two largest oilfields in the United States (Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk oil fields) as well as a number of smaller satellite oilfields. The network of roads, facilities, pipelines that make up the oil field infrastructure covers an area roughly the size of Rhode Island. Since all extracted oil is transported via the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, all new facilities must be connected to pre-existing ones. 

The National Petroleum Reserve – Alaska (NPR-A) is presently a region of intense oil development interest and its eastern boundary lies adjacent to the current oil field infrastructure. In recent years the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the administrator of the NPR-A, has sold oil and gas leases sales most extensively in the eastern portion of the NPR-A. Oil exploration activities in some of these areas are currently taking place. In addition, oil lease sales in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas have led to increasing offshore oil exploration activities. Plans for new developments to extract natural gas from this region are underway and will require a completely new infrastructure to transport gas to the south.
 
Mineral extraction activity in this region is relegated to the Red Dog mine in the Brooks Range of far western Alaska. Regions of the NPR-A near the Utukok Uplands are believed to contain some of the richest deposits of coal in the U.S. and so future pressure to expand development into this region is likely.   
 

Human activities, disturbances and direct loss of habitat related to energy development and the associated oil and gas infrastructure on the coastal plain may negatively impact bird and mammal species in a number of ways. Fragmentation of land from infrastructure (i.e. pipelines, roads, well pads, etc.) can lead to interruptions of movements and migrations of land mammals like caribou. Furthermore, suspected increases in nest predator populations such as Arctic fox, ravens, and gulls, through the benefits of human subsidies can subject nesting birds to increasing predation pressure. Other impacts include habitat degradation via road dust and hydrology alteration, disturbance from vehicle traffic and noise, increased hunting pressure, and introduction of contaminants into the system. 

Goals

  • Understand the importance of regions within the NPR-A for wildlife through novel research.
  • Work with stakeholders to develop the best land-use practices that will protect wildlife populations in this region.

Activities

Assessing the Importance of the Northeast NPR-A to Nesting Birds

From 2005-08 WCS, with support from the North Slope Borough, established a field camp near Teshekpuk Lake to undertake the first study in this important region assessing breeding bird survivorship, habitat selection for nest sites, predator abundance, and other related research. Starting in 2010, WCS, with support from the BLM and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, initiated a similar multi-year effort at a site on the Ikpikpuk River, an important wildlife region west of Teshekpuk Lake.

Monitoring in the Prudhoe Bay Oilfield

Since 2003 WCS has partnered with BP Exploration Alaska Inc. in a long-term study monitoring breeding birds predators and other biotic factors within the Prudhoe Bay oilfield.

Latest Publications

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Contact

WCS Arctic Beringia
P.O. Box 751110 Fairbanks, AK 99775
(907) 750-9991

Key Staff

Rebecca Bentzen
Arctic Beringia Avian Research Coordinator

Partners Include

North Slope Borough
Conoco Phillips
Bureau of Land Management