Former Montana Congressman Ryan Zinke was confirmed as the new Secretary of the Department of Interior today, a move that could mean a reversal of the current offshore oil and gas drilling ban in the U.S. Arctic. Given Secretary Zinke’s record as a proponent of expanded energy development, his appointment further builds momentum behind reinstating Arctic offshore oil and gas activities.
In his Senate confirmation hearing in January, Sec. Zinke clearly expressed his support of oil and natural gas development nationwide. As he said:
“The president-elect has said we want to be energy independent…I can guarantee you it is better to produce energy domestically under reasonable regulation, than watch it be produced overseas with no regulation.”
For the U.S to be energy independent, oil and gas production in Arctic waters is necessary. The Arctic holds an estimated 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and natural gas, with roughly 26 billion barrels of oil in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas alone. However, since the Obama Administration’s ban took 125 million acres of the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas off the table for oil and gas production, resources that could vastly improve American energy security now sit idle.
But optimism that Sec. Zinke will help overturn the Arctic offshore exploration ban stems from more than just his support of oil and natural gas development. When asked by Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), current Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, if he would commit to conducting a formal review of all the Obama Administrations’ actions on Alaskan resource-bearing lands and waters, Zinke prompted replied “yes.”
Moreover, Sec. Zinke’s continued support of giving local and tribal governments more say in resource management is yet another source of optimism. As his congressional website points out:
“Montana is home to eight sovereign nations and Rep. Zinke proudly works alongside tribal governments to advance tribal legislative priorities…He also authored legislation to give tribal governments a great say in energy development of their land and he authored and passed legislation to provide three years of tax relief for tribes that choose to mine their coal.”
Supporting the priorities of Native communities regarding resource development is undoubtedly important, but it is especially so in Alaska where oil and natural gas play a significant role in local economies. As a recent opinion poll of Alaskans found, 76 percent of local Alaskans and 72 percent of Alaska Natives support offshore research development. Yet the current offshore ban takes this vital economic driver away from Alaskans that depend upon these resources. As Rex Rock, President and CEO of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, said:
“Our people do not want to be bystanders, watching development happen in our backyard. Instead, we want to be active participants in the future of our region. We need meaningful jobs, a strong economy, and a healthy ecosystem to live and survive – just as our ancestors have done.”
With Secretary Zinke’s history of supporting domestic energy development, commitment to reviewing the Obama Administration’s harmful offshore drilling ban and a record of prioritizing the interests of Native communities regarding resource development, there is great hope that he will help reverse the current offshore Arctic ban.