Alaska Natives: Washington, D.C. Protest “Ignores the Views of the Majority of Local Arctic Residents”

May 16, 2016 in Blog, Local Perspective

In response to protests staged in Washington, D.C. this past weekend to rally against all oil and gas development, including exploration and production in the Arctic, Alaska’s largest Native Corporation has one main message for the protestors: You don’t know what you’re talking about.

The head of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), Rex Rock, Sr., said simply that the protest “ignores the views of the majority of local Arctic residents”:

“Today’s protest ignores the views of the majority of local Arctic residents who support culturally and responsible resource development. As the stewards of our environment, we not only have thousands of years of experience of living in the Arctic, but also have the most at stake in ensuring its future protection.”

His words carry much weight, given that ASRC, the largest locally-owned and operated business in Alaska, represents over 13,000 Iñupiat shareholders and employs approximately 10,000 people worldwide. But he is by no means the lone Native voice supporting Arctic oil and gas development: Multiple local organizations have spoken out in support of more development in recent weeks.

Voice of the Arctic Iñupiat (VOAI), representing 20 of the 28 entities across the North Slope, including tribal councils, municipal governments, and Alaska Native corporations, wrote in a column last week,

“We cannot be expected to survive without a stable, fully-functional economy — and like many northern people, our economy relies on resource development.”

The Bering Straits Native Corporation, which represents about 7,300 Alaska Native shareholders, has said:

“Developing Alaska’s Arctic OCS resources has economic benefits that expand well beyond the borders of our state. If activity was allowed to occur in the region, the nation could see an increase of nearly 55,000 jobs. Those jobs would generate an estimated cumulative payroll of $145 billion. Federal, state, and local governments would be able to generate an estimated $200 billion in revenue as well. While alternative energy sources are being used more and more every day, they cannot meet our Nation’s demand alone. Continuing domestic production of natural gas and oil is key for the U.S. to increase its energy dependence. To ensure that Alaska and the U.S. has a sustainable energy source in the coming decades the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas must remain a part of the lease program. This will allow the whole country to benefit from the value of Alaska’s Arctic.”

The Olgoonik Corporation, which represents 1,300 Alaska Native shareholders, has written:

“Olgoonik Corporation supports the leasing schedule as set for leasing under existing terms and conditions which will require BOEM to hold a Chukchi Sea offshore lease sale. … Oil companies who hold offshore drilling leases have engaged the community of Wainwright, as well as other communities on the North Slope of Alaska, in every step of the process, especially when it comes to the environment and subsistence uses by our communities. These companies are conscientious to and consider our concerns in regarding to the environment and subsistence practices.”

Michael Aamodt, Mayor of the North Slope Borough, the regional government representing eight villages, has stated:

“As it relates to the Arctic, BOEM captured the right sentiment in the initial notice of the 5-Year plan which stated “[o]ffshore exploration in the Arctic must occur in a way that is safe, responsible, and respectful of the Alaska Native communities that depend on the ocean for subsistence.” 79 FR 34350. The Borough could not agree more.”

Given that the protests happened some 3,000 miles away from Alaska, it is no wonder that the activists were so off base.