Last week, Director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Abigail Hopper visited Alaska to speak with local leaders before submitting her recommendations for the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) leasing plan to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Director Hopper has visited Alaska a half dozen times in the last year and a half, and each time has heard from a wide range of Alaskan interests who are concerned about the impact of BOEM removing the two Arctic leases sales currently in the plan. She has also spoken with Alaskans who made the long trip to Washington D.C to make the case for Arctic drilling.
During her latest visit, Director Hopper met with Governor Bill Walker, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan and representatives from the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, ConocoPhillips, and Arctic Iñupiat Offshore. Before leaving, she told the Alaska Dispatch News that she believes oil and gas can be produced responsibly in federal waters.
She addressed one project in particular; Hilcorp’s Liberty gravel island project in the Beaufort Sea, stating that there is a long history of safe operation:
“We will obviously do all the environmental evaluation required, but there’s a very strong record here in Alaska of building gravel islands safely in an environmentally responsible way, so there’s no reason to believe that couldn’t happen”
Arctic energy development has been a way of life for Alaska Natives for decades now, and it is a vital source of revenue for communities across the North Slope. Director Hopper’s acknowledgement that offshore drilling operations are safe is important, and it helps to further quash the myth that we “don’t know enough” about the Arctic to pursue energy exploration in the region. The energy industry is no stranger to the American Arctic. The beginning of commercial drilling in the Arctic began over 80 years ago and production companies have been successfully exploring America’s Arctic OCS region for over 30 years. Communities on the North Slope have benefited from safe oil exploration in the area since 1968.
Hopefully, Director Hopper will use the opinions she’s heard from Native Alaskans to form her recommendations for Secretary Jewell regarding the two Arctic leases in the upcoming plan. The long history of responsible development in America’s offshore Arctic should be reason enough for the Chukchi and Beaufort lease sales to proceed as scheduled.