Alarmists frequently attempt to make the case that the Arctic is an unknown territory with little known scientific understanding. This myth has been quashed before, but it bears repeating. The Arctic is an area where the government, the oil and gas industry, and local communities have poured massive amounts of time and money into scientific discovery. This understanding is vital to the region, and something on which we cannot afford to ignore. Unfortunately, if Arctic leases are removed from the next Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lease plan, private investment in scientific research could disappear entirely.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has invested over $475 million into environmental studies for coastal Alaska since 1973. Currently, there are over 50 active study projects taking place in Alaska. This week, BOEM announced the posting of its second quarter environmental study reports. Of the five reports posted for the quarter, three are from the Alaska region. BOEM now has completed over 700 reports on the Alaska region in total. That’s more than the amounts completed for the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and the Pacific regions, respectively.
BOEM’s studies on Alaska have been used to authorize 25 leases sales, leading to 9.5 billion in revenue for the United States Treasury. Based on these numbers, it’s clear that government investment in Arctic science yields remarkable returns. This science leads to regional understanding this is important to future lease sales, but they also incentivize the private sector to participate to the scientific knowledge sharing for a broad range of needs.
Arctic energy development leads to significant scientific and research investment in the region. The oil and gas industry has spent billions on scientific Arctic research. Shell alone spent nearly $5 billion on its Alaska Arctic research program. Fran Ulmer, Chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission has repeatedly stated that oil and gas industry has been the biggest investor in Arctic data collection and studies to date.
The National Petroleum Council’s Arctic Potential report highlighted on the scientific advancements of the oil and gas industry in its 2015 report:
“The oil and gas industry has a long history of environmental stewardship and successful operations in the Arctic, including exploration, development, production, and transport, enabled by continuous technology advances and learnings from experience”
One group often forgotten or ignored by activists in the Arctic energy argument is the local people of Northern Alaska. The communities of the North Slope have spent their lives learning about the region and depend upon their traditional knowledge for their successful stewardship of the region. This trove of local knowledge must be incorporated and is a critical component in expanding our understanding of the Arctic. In its comments submitted to BOEM on five-year plan draft, the Alaska Slope Regional Corporation pointed out that a decrease in industry investment would also hurt their Arctic knowledge-building ability:
“We ask that in the mission to preserve our ecosystem, BOEM and scientists not jeopardize our extraordinary economy. We cannot be expected to survive without a healthy eco-system and our economy—which relies on oil and gas development. Without our economy, we will not have the tools to continue to steward our lands and waters as we have been doing for a millennia; we will not have the economic base necessary to adapt to climate change.”
The American Arctic has been the recipient of hundreds of research programs and billions of dollars, thanks in large part to energy exploration that has taken place in the region. Removing Arctic OCS leases will diminish the industry’s incentives to continue Arctic research programs.