Alaska OCS Lease near ANWR Border Sparks Border Dispute

Alaska OCS Lease near ANWR Border Sparks Border Dispute

The State of Alaska has issued two leases to offshore lease tracts just off of the northwest corner of the 10-02 Area of ANWR. The State had put the leases up for bid in 2011 but due to a border dispute on the boundary of ANWR did not award the leases to bid winners. The issue of the western ANWR border dispute has existed for decades and most recently has been brought to a head as the State worked to codify the lease tracts after the 2011 Arctic lease sale.

Maps drawn of the ANWR border by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), which manages ANWR, differ from the legal description of the border given in the Congressional Record with PLO 2214 in 1960. Specifically the difference lies with USFWS claiming the Staines River as the ANWR border while the legal description clearly states the Canning River.  The Canning River, which is a braided river flowing south to north.  Just to the west of the Canning River, the Staines River flows roughly parallel and forms a long thin pie wedge sliver of land 20,000 acres total between the two tributaries.  On USFWS maps the border line is marked along the Staines River and yet in the 1960 Public Land Order 2214 defining the ANWR border it states the border runs, “in a southwesterly direction approximately three miles to the mean high water mark of the extreme west bank of the Canning River…. Thence southerly up the said west bank of the Canning River along the high water mark approximately seventy miles…”

In issuing the leases to the offshore lands north of the disputed area the State of Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources (AKDNR) released a white paper arguing its case. This months request to the BLM is the 6th time the State has requested conveyance of this land.  A land conveyance clause under the 1959 Alaska Statehood Act allows the State to lay claim to 105 million acres of land.  According to the BLM 96% of State requested land conveyances have been addressed in one form or another yet 43% still must be “patented” and could potentially be denied.

In 1964 the BLM provided a Tentative Approval (TA) to land transfer west of the Canning River yet in 1965 after a border clarification request by the State of Alaska, the BLM amended the 1964 TA to not include transfer of the lands between the two rivers. Multiple filings for land transfer followed in 1978, 1981, 1993, and culminated in a lawsuit by the State of Alaska against the US federal government in 1997 which was decided by the Supreme Court.  The US. Supreme Court held (No. 84 Orig.) that PLO 2214 is the law that determines the boundary of ANWR.  In 2000 the State reasserted its conveyance claim to the border land and in 2003 the Alaska Dept. of Natural Resources (AK DNR) and the USFWS conducted joint field inspection in which the AK DNR noted the ongoing discrepancy between the USFWS claims to a Staines River border vs. the decision by the US Supreme Court.  In 2013 the AK DNR initiated further geomorphic and legal study into the border and concluded that the border lay as stated in PLO 2214, on the western shore of the Canning.  Thus its sixth application for the 20,000 acre inter river area and the issuing of the offshore leases from the 2011 lease sale.

Given the USFWS’s continued claim to the land, it is likely the USFWS will try and influence the BLM to deny the land conveyance. Neither the USFWS nor the BLM have issued reports on the border issue despite being part of joint State/Federal survey studies of the Canning River area.  President Obama is against development of the 10-02 Area of ANWR and his control of the Dept. of Interior (which encapsulates BLM and USFWS) will likely mean either no action or outright denial of the State’s claim.

Attached is a copy of the State of Alaska’s claim request of the Staines River Canning River coastal plain area.