Hearing witnesses: wildlife and development can co-exist on the North Slope

July 19, 2017 in Blog, Featured

The House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing yesterday that evaluated new opportunities for onshore oil and gas development in Alaska. The National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) each have the  potential for significant oil and gas development, but  both have remained largely untapped as a result of burdensome regulations and restrictions placed upon the area by the Obama administration. After Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued a review of the Outer Continental Shelf Five Year Plan in May, however, the possibility of opening up this currently off-limits land and resolving issues that are hampering development has become more likely.

In his written and oral testimony, Richard Glenn, Executive Vice President for Lands and Natural Resources at the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation – one of twelve regional corporations that, under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, that receives revenue from oil and gas produced on their native peoples’ land – explained how his community has benefitted from oil and gas development:

“The development of oil and gas resources in our region has fostered a stable local tax base that provides education and community improvements that would otherwise be lacking or furnished at great expense by the federal government.”

That energy development has been “a tool of self-determination,” as Glenn put it, was not the only reason Glenn advocated in favor of the industry, however.

The North Slope native was adamant that development and the traditional Alaskan subsistence lifestyle can co-exist. He said that Congress remains “under the misguided notion” that Alaska’s dense wildlife population and oil and gas development cannot exist within shared territory “[n]o matter how many images we provide of caribou, ducks, fish, and even polar bears unharmed and undisturbed in close proximity, sometimes even directly on, over, or under oilfield infrastructure.”

Scott Jepson, Vice President of External Affairs and Transportation at ConocoPhillips Alaska echoed Glenn’s assertions, saying that the Obama Administration “placed more lands off-limits than is needed to protect wildlife and subsistence resources.”

Additionally, both Glenn and Jepson noted that if new development is to occur in Alaska, Congress must adjust the way in which it  regulates operations in the North Slope.

“From a regulatory point of view, the state of Alaska has implemented relatively efficient processes. Our key permitting challenge has been working with the federal government, whose regulatory framework has been less well defined,” Jepson said.

One example Jepson provided to demonstrate the government’s cloudiness was how the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) required $8 million to mitigate the development impacts of a road and bridge that connected two of Conoco’s active sites in the North Slope. According to Jepson, the BLM decided on the $8 million price tag after an arbitrary negotiation, not an analysis of specific impacts that  could occur as a result of the construction.

Glenn was in agreement, describing how conservation withdrawals, over-mitigated management plans, and federal permitting delays have done nothing but decreased oil and gas production in Alaska and subsequently hampered the economic self-determination of the state’s Native communities.

“When federal laws and policy are used to close lands surrounding Native communities to measured resource development, indigenous people are reduced to conservation refugees within their own homelands,” he said.

The messages of Glenn and Jepson were clear: energy development in Alaska and its people’s traditional subsistence lifestyle can absolutely exist in harmony with one another. Congress must consider the opinions of those who live in the state of Alaska (such as Glenn and Jepson), and the many benefits that the country as a whole will experience from unlocking Alaska’s full energy potential when they make legislative decisions that pertain to Alaskan oil and gas development.