Arctic Energy vs. The Environment?

August 21, 2015 in Blog

The U.S. Arctic is home to stunning natural beauty and wildlife, but it is also home to a Native community which has subsisted and thrived in this challenging climate for thousands of years.

Many often assume that Native Alaskans are opposed to energy development and that their concerns have been sidelined in both state and federal considerations of the Alaskan energy discussion – both notions are far from the truth.

The Alaskan Inupiat community understands the challenges of modern energy development and they appreciate the economic opportunities associated with safe energy development. In fact, traditional Inupiat life and modern energy development have co-existed well, and supported each other, for many decades.

The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), one of many organizations that represent the interests of Native Alaskans, has sent delegates to Washington, DC to testify before Congress in support of the responsible development of Alaska’s natural resources. ASRC Executive Vice President for Lands and Natural Resources, Richard Glenn, recently testified that not only are many Alaskans favorably disposed to exploration and production, but he also emphasized that “without development, our region, our communities will not survive.”

Native Alaskans work directly in the energy industry in many ways, one of which is through Native owned companies. ASRC operates several enterprises such as ASRC Energy, supporting industry through regulatory and technical services, drilling support services, geoscience, marine services, construction, engineering and operations and maintenance activities.

Of course, none of this occurs without deep consideration of the environment, on which the traditional subsistence culture of Native communities depends. In concert with this, the federal government’s decisions to approve exploration operations in the Chukchi Sea’s Outer Continental Shelf were premised upon several mandates, including that a site-specific environmental monitoring program be conducted in order to provide extensive information on any impact to marine life. Similarly the decision to allow exploration specifically states that any activity “shall be conducted in a manner that prevents unreasonable conflicts between the oil and gas industry and subsistence activities.”

Protection of the Arctic is a priority for all those that live and work in this environment. Unfortunately, alarmist claims often cloud a reasonable consideration of reality. An example of this is the often repeated claim intoning a 75% chance of a spill from offshore exploration activities in Alaska. This claim truly pushes the envelope of reason, as no regulator would approve a program with such a high likelihood of negatively impacting the environment. Blanket statements without context need to be addressed, which is why Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published a factsheet to explain this misleading discordance of facts and context.

According to the BOEM, the 75 percent statistic does not apply to the exploration program, or any specific aspect of offshore exploration. They state clearly that, “the data suggest that a large spill in the exploration phase is very unlikely.” Additionally, the BOEM’s factsheet notes that, the spills modeled for the Artic are “very unlikely” to be catastrophic historical events.   Importantly, exploration off the coast of Alaska’s North Slope will be conducted in shallow waters and in subsurface geologic conditions of relative low pressure.

The question facing us today is not a binary choice of development versus environmental protection. That is a false choice. Decades of safe and responsible management of Alaska’s oil and gas resources provide ample evidence that with the right technology, careful regulation and experienced partners, you can do both to the benefit of all.

View the BOEM Fact Sheet on Oil Spill Risk in the Chukchi Sea >