The State of Alaska’s policy is to “encourage… the development of its resources by making them available for maximum use consistent with the public interest” and that the “legislature shall provide for the utilization, development, and conservation of all natural resources belonging to the State… for the maximum benefit of its people.” (Alaska Constitution, art. VIII, 1,2).

Oil and gas seeps occur along the Gulf of Alaska coastline. Oil exploration and development in the basin and delta has not been successful due to the remoteness of the region and getting the oil to market.

The Katalla oil field lies two and half miles east of Katalla and 50 miles southeast of Cordova. The Katalla oil field operated from 1902–1933 when it burned down and was never rebuilt. Katalla was the first commercial oil development in Alaska. Several attempts have been made to drill for oil at Katalla but have not been successful since 1933. Cape Yakataga which lies 80 miles east of Yakutat and 60 miles west of Cordova has had oil and gas lease sales in the 1930s. In 1994, an attempt to drill for oil and gas was proposed but the prospect of finding a developable oil and gas deposit was very low.

The Trans Alaska Pipeline (TAPS) was built in 1977 and is 800 miles long. The current TAPS transects 20% of the Copper River watershed. Current estimates show that TAPS has only 10 years worth of oil flowing through the pipeline.

The proposed Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline would bypass the Upper Copper River watershed, through Canada and to the United States Midwestern market for distribution. An alternative route would pipe the natural gas to Valdez. TransCanada and ExxonMobil signed an agreement in 2009 to work together on the construction of the Alaska Natural Gas Pipeline. TransCanada has state seed money and a license to build and operate the pipeline but no federal approval has been given to the project.

Approximately 65% of the land in the Copper River watershed is federal land (includes NPS, BLM, USFS).The Kennecott Mine (found within the Wrangell-St.Elias National Park and Preserve) operated from 1911-1938 with $200 million worth of copper being processed. In the late 1920s, supply of high grade ore was diminishing along with declining profits and increasing costs of railroad repairs which eventually led to the closure of the mine in 1938. Mining exploration and claims takes place on these federal lands. The Copper River watershed is comprised of approximately 16% state land. Approximately 3.15 million acres (97%) of state land remains open to mineral entry while 110,000 (3%) of state land is closed to mineral entry to protect recreation, archeological and fish resources. Native lands comprise approximately 10% of the Copper River watershed. Lease agreements related to mining, oil and gas exploration continue to take place on native lands within the Copper River watershed. Please see the resource development map with reference to the types of resource development taking place in the watershed.

© 2011 Copper River Knowledge System