Yesterday the environmental group Oceana authored a piece in these pages which attacked the Arctic Energy Center and Arctic Coalition as fronts for the oil and gas industry. We at the AEC welcome a discussion about Arctic energy development; it is a complex and multi-faceted topic, which deserves greater exploration.
But we also believe that that discussion must be rooted in fact and should acknowledge the views of experts who understand the issue best. Unfortunately the article, like others before it from many in the environmental community, shows a regrettable lack of understanding of either point, misrepresenting our message and the broad coalition of Alaskans who directly understand what’s at stake in the Arctic.
Oceana’s piece implies that the Arctic Coalition campaign is solely the work of the AEC and thus the oil and gas industry. As the group’s name suggests, that is simply not the case. The Arctic Coalition is made up of 20 different organizations, including Native groups, labor, industry, the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and academia. While it is true that AEC is (transparently) sponsored by IPAA and AOGA, the other members are not and have very different mandates and objectives.
The point, as the advertisement makes clear, is that offshore energy development is about much more than just energy, it touches on every facet of life in the Arctic. That, ultimately, is why such a broad collection of organizations with different perspectives support offshore energy. Simply writing them all off as the oil industry is at best a lazy misrepresentation, and at worse a deliberate distortion of their different and varied viewpoints.
It also touches on a second point however. Unlike Oceana, 16 of the 20 Coalition members are from Alaska. There is great irony in a DC based organization attempting to save the Arctic on behalf of the Alaskans who actually live there. This is a point that Native community leaders have made on no fewer than six occasions in recent months, repeatedly asking the environmental community not to appropriate their voice to further their own agenda.
As Wainwright Mayor and whaling boat captain John Hopson, Jr. wrote not long ago, “Despite the self-serving rhetoric propagated by many ENGOs, we are not victims of climate change. We are not opposed to development. We are not going to abandon our culture or subsistence lifestyles. We are also not going to close the door on our collective future by preemptively shutting down economic opportunities in our own backyard.”
Oceana makes a similar mistake when arguing that national security shouldn’t be left in the hands of the energy industry. Or as the piece pithily put it, “To be blunt, if we are depending on multinational oil companies to protect the United States, we are in a lot of trouble.”
But no-one is claiming that the oil and gas industry should take responsibility for national security. What we make clear is that particularly in remote regions such as the Arctic, the private sector is a critical supplement to the activities of the Department of the Defense. That for example, is why the Coast Guard has had to rely on oil and gas vessels for two Arctic search-and-rescue missions in recent years.
Importantly it is not just the AEC which has raised this issue. Just last month the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul Selva said, "The fact that we don't have the capacity in any material way to have a surface presence in the Arctic is something that we ought to address.”
And that’s why 16 former military leaders, including Defense Secretary William Cohen and five officers who previously served as Commander of the Alaskan Command, sent a 58-star letter to the Interior Department emphasizing the need for “government and private sector cooperation, including private investments in Arctic infrastructure to provide presence and to share costs, resources and expertise.”
Perhaps it is understandable why, thousands of miles away from Alaska, Oceana does not appreciate this argument, but these officers have lived and served in the region and have seen first-hand the unique challenges that our military face there. Their experience and expertise demand that we take their concerns seriously.
The energy industry does believe that Arctic offshore resources will play an essential role in our country’s future energy mix and will continue to relay that fact. But the point of the Arctic Coalition campaign is to demonstrate that we are not alone and that there are numerous other organizations and communities which share our view. Blithely dismissing their arguments as those of the oil industry does nothing to further an important and complex discussion.
Lucas Frances is a spokesperson for the Arctic Energy Center, a joint initiative of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America to further public understanding of the science, technology and opportunity associated with Arctic energy exploration and development.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.