Sen. Murkowski Sides with State of Alaska in ANWR Boundary Dispute

October 30, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today voiced support for a request from Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell that the federal government convey roughly 20,000 acres on the western boundary of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to the state.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, Murkowski urged Interior’s Bureau of Land Management to quickly respond to the state’s request for priority conveyance under the Alaska Statehood Act and the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA).

“This issue centers on what waters are considered part of the Canning River, which has long been designated and reaffirmed as the western boundary of the Arctic coastal plain,” Murkowski wrote. “The state believes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has effectively re-designated the separate Staines River, which empties into the Beaufort Sea several miles west of the Canning River, as a channel of the Canning, thereby shifting nearly 20,000 acres of the coastal plain lying between the streams into the refuge.”

Murkowski said the dispute is preventing the state from benefitting from its 2011 lease sale in the area and is far from a theoretical issue given the value of the Point Thomson oil and natural gas field, just a few miles away. Interior agencies have objected to the state lease sale.

President Harry Truman established the Canning River as the western border of ANWR in 1952, a demarcation later reinforced by President Dwight Eisenhower in his designation of the coastal plain as an Arctic Range, and again in 1980 under ANILCA.

Murkowski said the boundary disagreement should have been resolved earlier this year with a joint state and federal mapping expedition, but the two sides failed to reach agreement.

“I believe a field trip earlier this summer between state and federal officials that reinforced the complexities of reconciling maps – some based on Sir John Franklin’s original mapping of the northern coast of Alaska in 1826 – with today’s satellite-based coordinates, supports the state’s claims that the (Interior) Department is currently misidentifying the western bank of the Canning River,” wrote Murkowski, the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The letter points out that Interior could take a major step toward resolving the controversy simply by producing the official map that defines the legal borders of ANWR under section 1002(b) of ANILCA. In 2005, the last time Murkowski requested the original 1980 map, Interior could not produce it.

The full text of the letter is available on energy committee website.