Conoco Denied Permit for Alaska North Slope Bridges

(Dow Jones), Feb. 9, 2010

Federal regulators have denied a request by U.S. oil major ConocoPhillips (COP) to build a system of bridges to expand oil drilling on Alaska's North Slope, saying the project would harm aquatic wildlife.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied ConocoPhillips' application to build the bridges over the Colville River, in a decision Friday, saying other alternatives would meet overall project goals while better preserving marine wildlife.

Houston-based Conoco plans to appeal the decision, company spokeswoman Natalie M. Lowman said Monday. She added that the company is "disappointed with their decision."

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and the state's governor, Sean Parnell, both Republicans, criticized the agency's decision, saying it would set back the project.

The agency said that Conoco's proposal to dicharge fill material over 62 acres of wetland tundra in the Colville River Delta ran up against federal rules that prohibit discharging dredged or fill material if there are other alternatives that would have "less adverse impact on the aquatic ecosystem."

The agency added that the Colville River Delta is the largest and "most complex" delta on the Artic Coastal Plain, is home to 80 bird species, numerous fish and migrating caribou, and provides subsistence hunting and fishing resources for inhabitants of the village of Nuiqsut.

The company would have to file a new application to pursue an alternative, which could include horizontal directional drilling, the agency said.

Conoco hasn't made any decisions about the project, aside from its plan to appeal the Army Corps of Engineers' decision, Lowman said.

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