An event held earlier this week at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a public policy think tank, shed light on the symbiotic partnership between Alaska Natives and the oil and gas industry – a unique relationship that ensures that Alaska’s communities will benefit from the responsible development of offshore oil and gas reserves in the Arctic Circle long into the future.
The conference, titled “Arctic Transformation: Understanding Arctic Research and the Vital Role of Science,” featured an array of speakers, including Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), officials from the Obama Administration, and environmental experts from Maine and Alaskan universities. The speakers covered numerous themes, including oil and gas production, local economic development, ecological research, and other initiatives underway in Alaska.
The prospect of Arctic oil and gas, specifically Shell’s Chukchi Sea project, has elevated the importance of what used to be an obscure issue in our national discourse: U.S. Arctic policy. Encouraged by the surge of interest in the Arctic region, Senator Murkowski said,
“I think there’s more engagement, I think there’s more eyes on the Arctic… on not only the needs, but I think the opportunities, and I think that’s good.”
Senator Murkowski was also pleased that President Obama’s recent trip to Alaska highlighted issues beyond climate change and resource development that are nevertheless critical to the prosperity of Alaskans:
“You can’t look at it from a sector-specific or single-issue focus … And whether it’s research activities, economic development, investment in infrastructure, environment stewardship, it’s all interconnected.”
Native Alaskans, who have lived in the region for thousands of years and possess a wealth of traditional knowledge, have been critical to furthering the dialogue on U.S. Arctic policy, particularly regarding offshore resource development and its role in driving sustainable, local economic growth.
Richard Glenn, Executive Vice President of Lands and Natural Resources at the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), which represents over 11,000 Native shareholders, emphasized that “go local first” is a “good model” for protecting the environment in the region. He also noted that resource production cannot happen without “both traditional knowledge and science…this is the only way development should continue.”
Other Native Alaskans, who are “stewards of the land [with] the most at stake in protecting an environment that is fundamental to our way of life,” continue to express strong support for development, in the words of ASRC CEO Rex Rock, Sr.:
“We also understand that environmental stewardship does not come at the expense of the responsible development of our natural resources, which is essential to our economic future.”
The support from Native Alaskans will continue to be a part of the discussion regarding Arctic oil and gas development – an opportunity for greater economic prosperity for Alaskans and a more secure energy future for the entire United States.