Three weeks after the Department of the Interior closed the door on Arctic drilling in the near future by cancelling offshore lease sales scheduled for 2016 and 2017, it has become obvious that the federal government is more interested in placating activist groups that peddle misleading claims about energy development than providing local Alaskan communities with resources that they need, bolstering our nation’s energy security, and seizing every opportunity to meet our foreign policy objectives.
Local Alaskans Support Arctic Energy Development
Many Alaskans live off the fish, wildlife, and other natural resources that form the backbone of life in the Far North, making them “invested, far more than any federal agency or nongovernmental organization,” in guaranteeing that oil and gas development would not interfere with their subsistence way of life as Richard Glenn of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), which represents 11,000 Inupiat shareholders, testified before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources.
Yet, Glenn emphasized that “ASRC supports the responsible development of America’s Arctic oil and gas resources in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas,” development that “provides our communities with the means to preserve our traditional way of life and culture” while also “allowing our residents to enjoy a greater quality of life.”
Because many Alaskans view Arctic energy development as a matter of necessity rather than a burden to bear, they insist that the Arctic “is not a pristine snow globe that should be locked away in a museum of pretty places.” Even though activists opposing Arctic drilling often claimed to be advocates for “people,” and “particularly indigenous groups,” their efforts were not appreciated by Native Alaskans, who have said,
“When it comes to energy development, many outsiders try to speak for Alaskans, but most know little about our communities or our way of life, and they certainly don’t know how vital Arctic resource development is for thousands of Alaskans.”
Some have also expressed that the “real concern” of Native Alaskans is being sacrificed in activist campaigns to “save the world”:
“We’re concerned that the environmentalists are trying to save the world at the expense of the Inupiat people of the Arctic Slope. … That’s our real concern.”
Because many Alaskans are outspoken in their support for Arctic energy development, and 91% of Alaskans say that producing more oil and gas here at home is important to them, activist groups campaigning against Arctic drilling are left to resort to desperate tactics.
Activist Groups Protesting Arctic Drilling Are Extreme
Perhaps because Native Alaskans and government agencies (a total of 12 federal agencies, 19 state agencies, and four local Alaskan agencies) agree that Arctic drilling can be done safely and responsibly, activist groups have had to rely on spreading misinformation, using celebrities as mascots, and resorting to extreme stunts and gimmicks, choreographed for media attention, to promote their campaign to ban Arctic oil and gas development.
For the activists who cry “[a]ny drilling is too much drilling,” Arctic drilling is just one prong of a larger campaign to end all oil and gas development – no matter the cost. Greenpeace and Oil Change International, for example, opposed Arctic drilling because:
“Anything that would exacerbate the problem of climate change, and that is not in line with our national and international target of limiting global warming to ‘safe’ levels, should come off the table.”
But this dogma demonstrates just how extreme these groups really are. Ultimately, these activists can only succeed at the expense of the world’s poor, and at the cost of international development and the amelioration of global poverty. As the United Nations and the International Energy Agency explained, increased use of energy, and expanded access to energy, are critical to improving human well-being, accelerating economic development, and raising living standards. By attempting to stop the production of energy, and thereby limiting the supply of energy, the activists fighting Arctic drilling are plainly placing their idealism above the needs of real people here in the U.S. and around the world.
For all the idealism expressed in anti-energy campaigns, the hard reality is that oil and gas have important roles to play in the energy mix if economic development and poverty alleviation efforts around the world are to continue – a fact that both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have readily acknowledged.
“Now even as we accelerate this transition, our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports, and we should demand the highest safety standards in the industry – our own.”
“…because we’re not going to suddenly be weaned from oil. And it’s a cleaner oil than others, and I think in terms of our efforts to begin the move to a de-carbonized economy, it’s going to take 20, 30, 40 years so there’s going to be some element of that.”
Activists Growing Desperate as Their Case Continues to Implode
The increasingly desperate stunts staged by these activists offer a glimpse of just how desperate they have become – from dropping banana peels onto buildings and kayaking as a campaign tactic – as their case for ending oil and gas development grows weaker and weaker by the day.
Even though the activists continue to portray oil and gas as “dirty” fuels, the reality is that technological innovations have made oil and gas development cleaner today than it has ever been. Furthermore, natural gas and its widespread environmental benefits have helped the U.S. lower its greenhouse gas emissions over the last two decades. Endowed with an abundance of natural gas, Alaska has the opportunity to participate in this story through projects such as Alaska LNG (liquefied natural gas).
Encouragingly, increased use of natural gas has helped lower energy-related carbon emissions in the country to multi-decade lows – a development that all who cares about the environment should celebrate. In 2012, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) credited expanded natural gas use for energy-related carbon emissions being the “[l]owest in two decades for any January-March period.” In 2013, EIA found that energy-related carbon emissions in 2012 were “the lowest in the United States since 1994,” and that, “[w]ith the exception of 2010, emissions have declined every year since 2007.” EIA explained that increased use of the “least carbon-intensive fossil fuel (natural gas)” had much to do with the shift:
“Lower natural gas prices resulted in reduced levels of coal generation, and increased natural gas generation—a less carbon-intensive fuel for power generation, which shifted power generation from the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel (coal) to the least carbon-intensive fossil fuel (natural gas).”
In August 2015, EIA reported that monthly power sector carbon emissions reached a 27-year low, which coincided with the tripling of natural gas consumption in our energy mix between 1988 and 2015.
For these reasons, the International Energy Agency’s “Golden Age of Gas” report concluded,
“When replacing other fossil-fuels, natural gas can lead to lower emissions of greenhouse gases and local pollutants.”
Therefore, even as anti-energy activists continue to lob claims that can be readily contradicted by data, facts, and a healthy dose of reality, the rest of us can rest assured that oil and gas are not only able to meet the energy needs of both the developed and developing world, but that they are also able to do so in a cleaner and more responsible way than ever before.
Arctic Drilling: A Matter of Livelihood for Native Alaskans, or Just Another Campaign for Activists
While the activists and their callous disregard for Alaskans’ needs and interests may seem bizarre at first glance, their behavior can be explained by the way they view Arctic drilling: as just another box to check, no matter the cost and no matter the collateral damage, before moving on to other causes.
Immediately after Shell announced its decision to suspend its Arctic program, the activists promptly pivoted to another operator in the Arctic, as E&E News described:
‘When Shell made the announcement that they were going to pull out of the Arctic, we immediately pivoted to an alert about Hilcorp,’ Harvey noted. ‘This is the latest threat that we’re seeing our members get fired up about again.’”
The “another drilling threat [that] has come to light” that Sierra Club quickly identified is a field where exploratory drilling had begun in the 1980s, and which Alaska State Senator Cathy Giessel, who chairs the Alaska State Resources Committee, called “a literal infusion into the lifeblood of our state. … [that] means good paying, living wage jobs for working Alaska families, keeping their roots in our towns for another generation.” This project had been in the works for decades, and the speed with which the activists pounced on the project demonstrates how desperate they were to identify another straw man to attack.
After the Department of Interior cancelled lease sales in the Arctic that had been scheduled for 2016 and 2017, the activists hastily reoriented their efforts to lease sales in the Atlantic, as Politico reported:
“WITH ARCTIC LEASE AUCTION CANCELED, GREENS LOOK TO ATLANTIC. … Before the music had even stopped on environmentalists’ happy dance, they turned their eyes to a new target: A plan to auction oil and gas leases in the Atlantic.”
Jumping from cause to cause is standard operating procedure for these activists, as an observer commented after they reacted in the exact same way on another issue:
“They have to have a cause to sustain their business model. … If they don’t have a bogeyman out there, they cease to exist…”
It’s one thing to adopt causes as a harmless hobby. But taking up groundless causes that have demonstrably negative ramifications on people’s livelihoods just to sustain a business model is reprehensible and irresponsible.
Federal Government: Siding With the Activists
Even though Arctic energy development could bring tangible benefits to local Alaskan communities and to the rest of the country, and even though it can be done safely and responsibly, and even though it receives overwhelming support from Alaskans, recent decisions made by the federal government on Arctic drilling make clear that is the administration is choosing to listen to activists over Alaskans, engineers, and scientists.
Shell’s decision to withdraw from the Arctic reflected what the company called “the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.” Ultimately, this kind of regulatory environment, characterized by vast layers of prescriptive red tape and one-size-fits-all policies that discourage investment in the Arctic, benefits no one.
Next, the Department of the Interior’s decision to cancel federal offshore Arctic lease sales was, in the words of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a “stunning, short-sighted move” that was the “latest in a destructive pattern of hostility toward energy production” in Alaska.
Last week, Sen. Murkowski once again rebuked the federal government for creating a “constantly-shifting regulatory environment” in the Arctic:
“Since taking office, the Obama administration has repeatedly denied Alaska’s best opportunities to produce energy for our nation and the world. … In the Chukchi Sea, the constantly-shifting regulatory environment recently forced a company to abandon seven years of work and $7 billion in investment. And instead of recognizing that as a significant loss, the administration doubled down last week by canceling offshore lease sales in the region.”
When the federal government chooses – not once, not twice, but over and over again – to side with anti-energy activists and their misleading claims over the interests of Alaskans and Americans writ large, America loses.
Rep. Don Young (R-AK) once said, “Alaska is no prop.” But that’s exactly how activists have viewed – and used – the Arctic and Native Alaskans: as props to be promptly discarded as they leap from campaign to campaign. Activists may view the real world as a Marvel flick with a rotating cast of villains, or a game of high-stakes whack-a-mole, but the collateral damage incurred in their crusades is no fun and games: It’s in the form of people’s livelihoods. The U.S. government should know better than to do the bidding of these activists – for the sake of all America and of future generations of Americans.