Past Arctic energy projects have demonstrated that offshore exploration in the region can occur in a safe, responsible manner. Scientists, the federal government, and industry players have poured millions of dollars and hours of time into researching the region and we now possess a great amount of knowledge about best practices and spill response.
Unfortunately, there are still activist groups who repeatedly ignore these facts in attempt to scare the public about Arctic energy development. Recently, the Oceans Program Director from the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) published an op-ed in the Huffington Post trying to do just that.
Energy exploration in Alaska dates back to 1900, when the first wells were drilled on the shore of the Cook Inlet. CBD’s Miyoko Sakashita (based in California) attempts to use a natural gas pipeline leak taking place in the Cook Inlet to argue that Arctic drilling is “treacherous,” while also attempting to discredit Arctic exploration. The Cook Inlet has been vital to Alaska’s financial success over the years, and its natural gas has provided heat and electricity to Anchorage and other areas of Southcentral Alaska for decades. Unfortunately the CBD conveniently overlooks the real-world realities and criticizes the energy projects that are integral to Alaska and the nation’s welfare.
The CBD piece is also attempting to use the Huffington Post platform to publicize the arguments the group will likely use in a lawsuit it intends to pursue against Hilcorp. It is reminiscent of tactics they used multiple times against Shell when the company was pursuing Arctic offshore development projects.
The author criticizes Arctic infrastructure noting “the nearest Coast Guard station is 1,000 miles away.” While there is a need for more infrastructure in the area, the article fails to acknowledge the amount of infrastructure energy projects bring with them. Just last month a report from the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure noted that Arctic energy development could lead to $6.3 billion of investment into Arctic infrastructure projects.
Shell’s Arctic projects brought tremendous infrastructure gains and oil spill response advances for the region. Last year Admiral Robert Papp, the State Department’s Special Representative for the Arctic, described the gap created by Shell’s departure:
“The country needs…. a deepwater port in Alaska, better telecommunications, and a whole list of issues that we need to be prepared for. The fact that Shell was going to be operational here provided incentive and drew attention to so many of the area’s other needs.”
Time and again, CBD uses false statements in attempt to paint the Arctic as obscure region that scientist, regulators, and industry know nothing about. Take for example the article’s assumption of year round darkness across the North Slope of Alaska. In fact, Barrow Alaska sees more days of 24 hour sunlight, than days of total darkness. Additionally, the drilling season offshore of Northern Alaska is normally somewhere between June-September, so the dark winter days do not coincide with these summer operations. It is also worth noting that the Cook Inlet is on the southern side of Alaska, and is not affected by the same seasonal light patterns that the North Slope sees. The author’s mischaracterizations of the Arctic environment demonstrate a lack of familiarity with Arctic drilling procedures and with the region itself.
The piece also recycles the misleading statistic that there is a “75 percent chance of a significant spill” in the region that would be “impossible” to remediate. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has gone to great lengths to dispel this misleading number. In its explanation of the spill percentage BOEM states:
“Even in BOEM’s hypothetical scenario, the data suggest that a large spill in the exploration phase is very unlikely.”
The CBD uses blanket statements about offshore drilling to bolster their argument, but the claims are erroneous and refuted by science, Those opposed to all energy development chooses to ignore the fact that offshore drilling has had success in nearly every corner of world’s oceans, and the Arctic is no exception. Energy development in the region has a long history of research and exploration progress. Shell drilled the first offshore well in the Cook Inlet over 60 years ago, while lease sales and other activity in the Chukchi and Beaufort have been occurring for the last 30+ years.
Offshore energy exploration anywhere in the world should not be taken lightly, and the operators who have worked in the Arctic for years understand this fact. The investment and planning that they pour into each project is to ensure that development occurs responsibly. Arctic energy is a significant asset to America’s energy portfolio, and it can be developed in an environmentally-conscious manner. The arguments laid out by CBD’s Oceans Director ignore the decades of safe development that have occurred in the Arctic and Subarctic regions of offshore Alaska.