In closing off most of the Chukchi and Beafurt Seas to exploration the Obama administration has largely ignored the opinion America’s Arctic communities. The communities that reside in the northern part of Alaska have repeatedly advocated for drilling opportunities in the region. The majority of Native towns and villages want to see Arctic energy projects come online because they bring jobs and tax revenue to local governments. They have seen a positive improvement in quality of life when Arctic oil and gas is flowing. Unfortunately, the administration has ignored the pleas of the people of the Far North and has closed the Arctic for business with its latest ban.
Sadly it appears that the U.S. isn’t the only one ignoring the needs of the people who live closest to energy exploration. Just this week, the Yukon News, based Whitehorse Canada, reported that Canadian northerners felt they were not consulted when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Canada was joining the U.S. to ban drilling in Arctic waters. Yukon Premier Sandy Silver noted that he had doubts about the level of Northerner involvement in the decision:
“I expressed my concern at that time that we had not been involved in this decision and that unilateral decisions for the North are obviously not something we support,”
Ted Laking, chief of staff for the Yukon Party criticized the decision making process behind the ban saying:
“We think that Yukoners should have been properly consulted […] “Ultimately, it should be northerners determining our destiny, not Ottawa.”
Merven Gruben, the former mayor of Tuktoyaktuk (also located in the Yukon Territory) discussed how the environmentalist who cheered the ban are out of touch with the needs of his community:
“We’re trying to be self-reliant and get off social assistance. You get all these environmentalists, and Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund are doing all this stuff and shutting this down, and then they take off. They’re not going to feed us.”
The people of Alaska’s North Slope can relate to this frustration. Groups like the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Arctic Iñupiat Offshore, the Arctic Coalition, and Ahtna Inc. penned op-eds, testified in hearings, and made visits to DC all in support of Arctic offshore development. These groups (and many others) spoke candidly about how much their communities rely on the revenue that energy projects bring to the region. At a 2016 hearing in Washington, D.C., Alaska’s Wainwright Mayor John Hopson stated:
“The oil and gas industry is also the source of many jobs for the Native shareholders of our Alaska Native corporations, including oil field contracting, regulatory permitting, engineering, pipeline design and maintenance, property leasing, and spill prevention and response. We need those jobs to truly sustain our communities. To put it simply, though we work hard to protect our subsistence way of life, we cannot hunt without bullets and fuel, and we cannot buy bullets and fuel without jobs that provide income.”
It seems that activists groups and federal lawmakers in the U.S. and Canada are guilty of repeatedly politicizing the Arctic and making decisions based on their own agendas. Native groups in both countries have expressed that this new drilling ban will be hugely damaging to their economy and their communities. Ottawa and Washington, D.C. must consult the groups most affected by oil and gas exploration before they decide to enforce a massive moratorium. While this idea seems second nature to most, it appears to be a novel concept for some of North America’s most prominent leaders.
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