National Security Experts Weigh in on Arctic Offshore Energy Development

June 16, 2016 in Blog

On the eve of the conclusion of the Department of the Interior’s public consultation on its proposed Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022, a group of foreign policy and national security leaders have submitted formal comments for the record in support of retaining the two Arctic leasing areas in the final program.

The 58-star letter, which includes former Secretary of Defense William Cohen and former Supreme Allied Commander and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Ralston, as well as 14 former high-ranking military officers with firsthand experience overseeing Arctic operations, stresses that excluding the Arctic would jeopardize America’s ability to protect its interests.

Noting that both Russia and China continue to expand their military footprints in the region, the comments emphasize that the strategic significance of the Arctic is growing and argue that private sector involvement plays an essential role in supporting military activity:

“The White House, Defense Department and Coast Guard strategies for the Arctic depend on government and private sector cooperation, including private investments in Arctic infrastructure to provide presence and to share costs, resources and expertise.”

The comments conclude by noting that the Arctic’s inclusion in the final plan does not guarantee its development, but merely maintains the possibility for future eventualities:

“Keeping the Arctic in the Program maintains our options; exclusion irreversibly eliminates them. After the Proposed Program is finalized, the Secretary of the Interior will still have full discretion to cancel a lease sale or to narrow the geographic scope of a proposed leasing area. But once the Program is finalized, leasing areas cannot be added or expanded.”

In response, Lucas Frances, spokesperson for the Arctic Energy Center, commented:

“Department of Defense concerns over a potential conflict between its operations and offshore development played a major part in the decision to exclude the Atlantic from the proposed program. Now that situation has reversed: As the experts stress, the private sector, especially the oil and gas industry, performs an essential role in bolstering national security in the Arctic.

“Other potential reasons to exclude the Arctic from the leasing program, like today’s commodity prices, are similarly immaterial. The timeframes involved here are long: If included in the program, Arctic leases will not be open to bids until 2020. We have no way of predicting what the energy landscape will look like by that point, so making assumptions about future industry interest based on today’s commodity environment would be shortsighted. We have to give future administrations at least the option of holding lease sales in the coming years.”   

Frances concluded by noting the widespread support that exists for Arctic energy:

“A clear majority of the public comments submitted to the docket are supportive of offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic and elsewhere. Significantly, that support echoes the views of the local communities most impacted by development: Many Alaska Native Corporations, including the  Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Aleut Corporation, Ahtna Corporation, Bering Straits Native Corporation and Olgoonik Corporation, have advocated for more oil and gas exploration and production in the Arctic.  

 “It is essential that the Department of the Interior acknowledge the comments of Native communities, recognized security experts, Alaska’s congressional delegation, elected officials, local business leaders, labor organizations and many others and include the Arctic in the final leasing program.”

A copy of the letter can be found here.

Submissions to the Department of the Interior public comment docket can be found here.