Environmental Activists Are Drowning out Alaskan Voices

October 6, 2015 in Blog, Local Perspective

An article published on Houston Chronicle’s Fuel Fix blog, titled “Shell’s aggressive bidding after reserves scandal plotted path to Arctic disappointment,” is just another example of how news coverage of Arctic drilling often features the loud clamoring of environmental activists and the media stunts they choreograph – but give little consideration to the voices of local Alaskans. This article quoted only Oceana, which it called a “conservation group” – when in reality Oceana is an environmental activist organization that has long waged a campaign against Arctic offshore drilling, from petitioning the President, Congress, and federal agencies to ban drilling, to lobbing lawsuits challenging lease sales, permits, and spill response plans, to calling Shell’s decision a “huge victory.”

While environmental activist groups are “thrilled” about the “great news,” Alaskans, elected officials, and Members of Congress – consider Shell’s decision “a major blow,” “a big loss,” “a punch in the gut,” and “a very sad day for Alaska and for working Alaskans and Americans across the country.”  The callous remarks made by these environmental groups affirm, troublingly, the concern of Native Alaskans that “the environmentalists are trying to save the world at the expense of the Inupiat people of the Arctic Slope,” as characterized by Crawford Patkotak, who represents 11,000 Inupiat shareholders as chairman of the board of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC).

Left out of the article are the voices of those whose lives would have been most acutely affected by Arctic offshore drilling: those who live and work in Alaska – and who support Arctic offshore development.  Below are a few examples of how they responded to Shell’s announcement:

ASRC President and CEO Rex Rock, Sr. bemoaned the “major blow for Alaska” and the “burden” of the stifling federal regulatory environment:

“At a time when Alaska is confronting a fiscal crisis, the news from Shell is deeply disappointing.  This is a major blow for Alaska, and leaves into question the viability of our state’s economy … Closer to home on the North Slope, we are looking for solutions on how we continue to sustain our local economies to support our communities. Absent any responsible resource development onshore and offshore, we are facing a fiscal crisis beyond measure. The federal regulatory environment has proven to be a burden for any development, whether onshore or offshore. With this type of uncertainty, we will continue to see good opportunities slip away because no one wants to do business in Alaska.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) said she was “extremely disappointed” and “deeply frustrated” by the “burdensome and often contradictory regulatory environment” that ultimately crippled development:

“I am extremely disappointed by this decision, just as I have been deeply frustrated by the years-long path that led to it.

“In the more than seven years that Shell has held leases in the Chukchi, it has only recently been allowed to complete a single well. What we have here is a case in which a company’s commercial efforts could not overcome a burdensome and often contradictory regulatory environment. The Interior Department has made no effort to extend lease terms, as recommended by the National Petroleum Council. Instead, Interior placed significant limits on this season’s activities, which resulted in a drilling rig sitting idle, and is widely expected to issue additional regulations in the coming weeks that will make it even harder to drill. Add this all up, and it is clear that the federal regulatory environment – uncertain, ever-changing, and continuing to deteriorate – was a significant factor in Shell’s decision.”

Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) called Shell’s announcement a “very sad day for Alaska and for working Alaskans and Americans across the country,” criticizing the “unprecedented regulatory hurdles and delays” imposed by the federal government:

“Shell’s announcement is being cheered by environmental groups, but it’s a very sad day for Alaska and for working Alaskans and Americans across the country. From the beginning, through unprecedented regulatory hurdles and delays, the Obama administration and its environmental allies have created the conditions for Shell to abandon its Arctic drilling program. And they succeeded.”

Alaska House Majority Representative Ben Nageak (D-Barrow) said Shell’s decision was “heartbreaking for us”:

“Our people have been paying close attention to Shell’s actions and plans, and (the announcement) is heartbreaking for us. We stood on the cusp of another economic boom that could have propelled our young people and their children to better futures. Instead, due to strangulation of Shell’s proposal by our draconian and poisoned federal government, one well coming up dry is all it took for the company to say it’s not worth it anymore in the Alaska Arctic.”

Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault (R-Kenai) called it a “punch in the gut,” condemning the “abrasive and confrontational” federal government that needs to “listen and include us in their decisions”:

“This is a punch in the gut. Shell’s decision, based on their findings, after being hamstrung by our federal government is a sad statement on the future of our offshore oil and gas prospects. We need better governmental systems in place, federally. Companies shouldn’t have to invest billions of dollars and wait years due to an abrasive and confrontational government. … Our energy future still sits in the Arctic and it’s up to us to keep putting pressure on our federal government to listen and include us in their decisions.”

As Arctic Energy Center recently wrote, no one wins from Shell’s decision to move out of the Arctic, except the environmental groups that seek to benefit at the expense of Alaskans. Environmental activists have the luxury of flitting from issue to issue, but for Alaskans, resource development is tightly intertwined with their very livelihoods. Local voices are the ones worth listening to.