Industry Spends Billions on Arctic Research

December 3, 2015 in Blog

All too often activists use the “we don’t know enough” line regarding the Arctic in an attempt to scare the public on prospects of energy exploration.  The reality is that oil and gas has been safely developed in the Arctic for decades. Certain groups would have you believe that we know very little about the U.S. Arctic and thus we should forgo any exploration.  Again, this myth portraying a paucity of science is without merit.  There have been a myriad of Arctic focused studies in the past decade alone and billions of dollars have poured into the region for research purposes; much of it through joint studies between universities, government agencies, and the energy industry.

Some of these aforementioned activists might be surprised to find out who is the largest investor for science-based research in the Arctic. It is not environmental groups or the government – it is the oil and gas industry that has been putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to Arctic research.

In stark contrast to the activist’s tactics, the oil and gas industry is the biggest contributor to Arctic research. At a recent Baker Institute event discussing Arctic opportunities, Chair of the Arctic Research Commission Fran Ulmer described how the energy industry supports research efforts in a variety of ways. Ulmer emphasized that the oil and gas industry is the biggest investor when it comes to Arctic data collection and study. To put the numbers into perspective, Shell alone has spent $5 billion on research for its Alaskan Arctic program. In comparison, the federal government has spent only $0.16 billion total on oil spill research (not just for the Arctic region, but nationally).

A more honest pursuit by the activists groups clamoring for more studies would be making regional investments in science, instead of spending their time and resources on legal battles that inhibit economic progress in the region. These alarmists have spent countless dollars on elaborate protests and campaigns riddled with misinformation, in attempt to block drilling efforts the American Arctic.  Some protesters have gone so far that companies have had to file temporary restraining orders in order to protect activists and industry employees from possible harm stemming from careless antics. Oftentimes, it is the drilling companies who are left cleaning up the mess from these protestors.

Misinformed activists constantly complain about a lack of research all the while going to great lengths to hold up operations in the Arctic. These outrageous protests and legal battles require Arctic operators to expend funds that could otherwise be redirected to provide greater scientific understanding of the region. These protests are rarely effective, and they force industry to waste money to ensure the safety of the very activists instigating the problem. This ongoing cycle is senseless and counterproductive.  It’s time to recognize the parties that are actually investing in the region to establish a robust, scientifically-based understanding of this vast frontier, instead of  giving a voice to those who hypocritically and wrongly claim that we “don’t know enough.”