Wilderness League Lost Again?

October 6, 2015 in Blog

An opinion piece in The Hill by Cindy Shogan, head of the environmental group Alaska Wilderness League in Washington D.C., makes one thing crystal clear: The article is an example of an environmental activist organization peddling disinformation, disingenuity, conceit – and fear.

In this column, Shogan attempts to speak for Alaskans, Native groups on the Alaska’s North Slope and Americans on the whole about oil exploration in the American Arctic, calling Shell’s recent pullback from further exploration in Alaska “a welcome end” – an insensitive and insulting remark that runs contrary to the views of Alaskans, from Governor Bill Walker, to Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Dan Sullivan (R-AK), to local elected officials, to Native Alaskans, who have lamented the decision and criticized the stifling federal regulatory environment that is making Alaskan development prohibitively uncertain and expensive.

What Shogan fails to acknowledge is the widespread support among local Alaskans for Arctic oil and gas development. According to a 2014 survey by Harris Poll, 91% of registered Alaskan voters believe that is important to produce more oil and gas within the State. In fact, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a 100% Native Alaskan-owned organization representing the economic interests of 11,000 Native Alaskans, has not only supported Shell’s recent venture, but was also planning to actively participate in the project as an investor.

In an attempt to dismiss energy production in Alaska’s offshore, Shogan claims it is a “place prone to hurricane-force storms, 20-foot swells, pervasive sea ice, frigid temperatures and months-long darkness.” But the extreme conditions she describes are, in reality, generally less severe than those of other major oil fields. For example, the Gulf of Mexico experiences frequent hurricanes, and the North Sea in Europe has its share of lively swells. The Arctic is not the only place in the world that is cold and covered with sea ice, and drilling in the Arctic is by no means a new phenomenon – it’s been safely done for over 80 years.

In a claim that more closely resembles self-aggrandizement than reality, Shogan suggests that Shell’s decision to withdraw from the Arctic had less to do with legal and regulatory delays and more to do with the “growing opposition to Arctic drilling,” as marked by the “the birth of the ‘kayaktivism’ movement.” Leaving aside the environmental damage wreaked by said movement, a University of Washington affiliate faculty member wrote in a column:

“Does this mean anti-Arctic drilling advocates have handed ‘Big oil…an unmitigated defeat,’ as Greenpeace says? No, it doesn’t. Other factors than environmentalists’ opposition are far more important.

These other more important factors include what Senator Murkowski calls the “uncertain, everchanging, and continuing to deteriorate” regulatory environment governing Alaskan offshore drilling that has been made even more convoluted by the litigation of organizations such as the Alaska Wilderness League. Even for companies willing to commit billions of dollars to conduct years of environmental and geologic study and to build and mobilize a fleet of specialized ships, regulatory hurdles evidently have become insurmountable in the end. As Senator Murkowski said,

“What we have here is a case in which a company’s commercial efforts could not overcome a burdensome and often contradictory regulatory environment.”

Blanket statements of “victory” are drowning out the very real economic and social implications of a lost opportunity in Alaska and the foregone benefits of a stronger domestic energy sector for America as a whole. What Shogan calls a “victory” may be a victory only for the environmental activist groups, like Shogan’s, that have been campaigning at the expense of Alaskans.

Alaska depends upon energy development for 90% of its economy, and North Slope communities depend upon oil and gas jobs and tax revenues to build the infrastructure of their villages and schools and to heat their homes. To profess an understanding of these needs from a political perch in DC is disingenuous and dismissive of the people of Alaska, the communities of California and Washington State that depend on Alaskan energy for their refineries, and Americans everywhere who depend on domestic energy to maintain a high standard of living.

Some “victory.”