Alaskans Support Arctic Offshore Development

May 10, 2016 in Blog, Local Perspective

As activist groups vigorously lobby the Department of the Interior (DOI) to exclude the Arctic from the agency’s next five-year oil and gas leasing program – and as their talking points are recycled by some of our nation’s lawmakers – communities in Alaska, including Alaska Natives across the North Slope, have often been out-shouted in this discussion and their perspectives overlooked. Below, Arctic Energy Center highlights sections of the letters Alaska locals have sent to DOI about the upcoming lease sale, urging the agency to keep the Arctic open for oil and gas development.

The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which represents 12,000 Iñupiat shareholders, wrote:

“ASRC strongly favors continued Arctic OCS exploration and development. … Arctic OCS exploration and development would bring additional jobs, higher wages and increased tax revenues to both the North Slope region and the State of Alaska. Moreover, continued exploration and development of the Arctic OCS would serve the national interest by contributing to the United States’ long-term energy security.”

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

“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, wrote:

“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, wrote:

“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.”

In addition to these Native voices, it’s important to note what Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said about the “keep it in the ground” activists protesting leasing as a tactic to “solve” climate change. Last fall, she called those efforts simplistic:

“I think it over-simplifies a very complex situation to suggest that one could simply cut off leasing or drilling on public lands and solve the issues of climate change.”

Last week, she called the protests “naïve”:

“It’s going to take a very long time before we can wean ourselves from fossil fuels, so I think that to keep it in the ground is naïve, to say we could shift to 100 percent renewables is naïve. … We really have to have a blend over time, and a transition over time, that recognizes the real complexity of what we’re dealing with.”

In Short

While it may be easy for activists to preach against energy development thousands of miles away from Alaska, the locals, especially the Native communities, have unique insight into what it is like to work with the oil and gas industry on exploration and development. Their voices are those that DOI should listen to as it plans its upcoming offshore leasing program.