What They Are Saying – U.S. Officials, Military Leaders, Native Leaders and Industry Groups Respond to Obama’s Offshore Drilling Ban in the U.S. Arctic

December 21, 2016 in Blog

After pulling all Arctic leases from the 2017-2022 Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing plan last month, President Obama decided to take even more drastic action to stifle domestic Arctic energy investment. Invoking a rarely used section of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act of 1953, known as Section 12(a), Obama “indefinitely” banned offshore oil and gas development from 125 million acres of federal waters off Alaska’s coast in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.

Defending his decision by claiming it was done to protect the Arctic ecosystem “upon which many Alaska Native communities depend,” Obama’s action profoundly missed the proposed intent. As recent research commissioned by the Arctic Energy Center shows, the vast majority of local Alaskan’s support offshore development (76 percent), with 72 percent of Native Alaskan’s supporting offshore development and almost 80 percent understanding that local opinions should matter most on this issue.

Because of the significant economic impact this decision will have on Alaskans and Native communities in the across the Arctic, condemnation of the move has been swift. As Alaskan Governor Bill Walker stated:

“This unprecedented move marginalizes the voices of those who call the Arctic home and have asked for responsible resource development to lower the cost of energy to heat houses and businesses. For centuries, the Arctic has provided food for those in the region. No one is more invested than Alaskans to ensure that the habitats within the Arctic are protected. To lock it up against any further exploration or development activity is akin to saying that the voices of activists who live in Lower 48 cities have a greater stake than those to whom the Arctic is our front yard and our back yard”

Other government officials also spoke out against the decision, such as Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources Rob Bishop (R-UT) who said:

“The extremes to which this president will go to appease special interests never ceases to amaze. This is not a moral calling, it’s an abuse of power. Scratch below the façade of pragmatism and it is nothing more than ideological chest-thumping from the president for the far left.”

He continued,

“This White House fails to understand that America’s offshore is the foundation of our energy strength, and its responsible development has served to insulate families and businesses from the whims of global oil cartels such as OPEC. This naïve and unprecedented executive action undercuts our competitiveness and threatens regional economies across the country.”

Native Alaskan groups also spoke out; pointing to the burden this will place on communities who depend on oil and gas development. As Rex A. Rock Sr., President and CEO of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, an Alaskan Native group that represents 12,000 Iñupiat people, said:

“We will fight this legacy move by the outgoing president with every resource at our disposal… This decision will not stop our climate from changing, but it will inhibit our North Slope communities from developing the infrastructure, communications capability and technology necessary for growth. It’s a move which was made without any consultation from the largest private land owners in the U.S. Arctic and yet we will be the ones forced to live with the consequences.”

Many in the national defense community expressed concern that this action by the Obama Administration would greatly hinder our military strength in the region. As General Joseph Ralston, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Europe and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated:

“I am deeply concerned by today’s announcement taking steps to permanently remove Arctic waters from potential development through executive action. Not only does today’s move run counter to our national security interests in the region, it significantly sets back our ability to encourage responsible economic development and infrastructure, as well as our military’s ability to leverage these assets to project presence in the Arctic.”

Gen. Ralston continued,

“The reality is that as Arctic ice continues to recede, military, commercial and human activity by friends and potential foes alike is already underway and will only increase.  U.S. leadership in the Arctic requires participation and cooperation on all fronts. Without the prospect for commercial investment, our nation’s ability to lead and engage on Arctic issues is diminished. Today’s decision represents yet another strategic withdrawal from the Arctic by the Obama Administration.”

Here is a round-up of others who spoke out against Obama’s decision:

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee

“The only thing more shocking than this reckless, short-sighted, last-minute gift to the extreme environmental agenda is that President Obama had the nerve to claim he is doing Alaska a favor…For him to suggest to the people of the Arctic that they must rely on a nonexistent government working group and $9 million a year in charity as a substitute for real economic opportunity is a slap in the face to countless Alaskans. President Obama has once again treated the Arctic like a snow globe, ignoring the desires of the people who live, work, and raise a family there. I cannot wait to work with the next administration to reverse this decision.”

Kara Moriarty, Alaska Oil and Gas Association President and CEO

“Today’s announcement is a stunning example of hypocrisy from President Obama. In his announcement about the Bering Sea last week, he said he was listening to Alaskans when he established the climate resilience area, but today’s announcement ignores the desires of 76 percent of Alaskans who support resource development in the Arctic, including Alaska Natives who call the area home. It is foolish to believe the United States can have a strong, successful economy in the Arctic without oil and gas development.”

Dan Naatz, Senior Vice President of the Independent Petroleum Association of America:

“With exactly one month left in office, President Obama chose to succumb to environmental extremists demands to keep our nation’s affordable and abundant energy supplies away from those who need it the most by keeping them in the ground,”

Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska)

“This announcement by the Obama Administration is an affront to our representative democracy…Make no mistake – the President betrayed Alaskans today – especially those living in the Arctic – who were not consulted, and instead gave one final Christmas gift to coastal environmental elites. This decision is not about environmental protection or the economics of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic. This is hopefully the last act of a callous presidency, one that lacks any regard for America’s economic future and the hardworking families of Alaska. Presiding over a lost decade of economic growth for America, Obama’s legacy will not be one of transparency and inclusion of affected stakeholders, but instead one of executive overreach at the command of extreme special interests with agendas far removed from and unsympathetic to middle-class Alaskan families and other hardworking Americans”

Chris Warren, American Energy Alliance

“President Obama is doing a great disservice to this country by putting the demands of special interest activists above the interests of the American people…These offshore areas belong to the public and should be used to their benefit — not to further the president’s keep-it-in-the-ground political agenda.”

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska)

“Hell-bent on locking away our resources and suffocating our already weakened economy, President Obama is one step closer to solidifying his place next to Jimmy Carter as Alaska’s worst nightmare…Frankly, this is a cowardly move by a lame duck President – eight years to take this action, yet it comes at the 11th hour with little to no support from Alaskans. I’ve been adamant with this administration; Alaska is not and should not be used as the poster child for a pandering environmental agenda. This decision only strengthens our resolve – as a resources oriented state – to overturn the heavy hand of government and empower our people and communities with new social and economic opportunities. The groundwork is already being laid to overturn this terrible decision.”

Erik Milito, American Petroleum Institute’s Upstream Director:

“[O]ur national security depends on our ability to produce oil and natural gas here in the United States…. This proposal would take us in the wrong direction just as we have become world leader in production and refining of oil and natural gas and in reduction of carbon emissions.”

Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Member of House Natural Resources Committee

“A permanent ban is clearly not the scope of power provided by law, nor is it in the interest of the United States…However, I am not shocked at his willingness to put his political legacy before his country. Instead of listening to rebuke after rebuke of his policies in successive elections, he would rather act like a king.”

Lucas Frances, Arctic Energy Center

“The administration has always justified a ban on Arctic development because of an alleged lack of local support or industry interest. The Arctic Energy Center’s research categorically shows that that is simply not true, with almost three quarters of Native respondents supporting offshore energy. Taken with last week’s news that sales of Beaufort Sea and North Slope leases generated $18 million, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Obama administration is playing politics with the future of Alaska”

Many others note the opportunity of overturning this ban under the next Administration,

U.S. Oil and Gas Association

“Obama justified the act under authority he interpreted in the Offshore Continental Lands Act specifically citing provisions in Section 12(a).  Section 12(a) been used by past administrations to restrict oil exploration on the West and East coasts, though each time the ban on leases was given an expiration date.  However, there is disagreement among legal experts if a permanent ban is legal under the Act. It can be argued that a permanent withdrawal conflicts with Congress’ stated purpose in creating the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) to begin with.  The Act provides that the outer continental shelf be “available for expeditious and orderly development.”

Chris Guith, Senior Vice President for Policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for 21st Century Energy

“There’s no such thing as a permanent withdrawal. It can be repealed with the stroke of a pen.”

Let’s hope, for the sake of all Alaskans, America’s energy security and our national security, that overturning this egregious ban is not only possible, but swift.