Ban on offshore Arctic energy is out-of-step with views of the people who matter most

A recent opinion submitted by Duane Miller lauded former President Obama’s closure of America’s Arctic to future exploration. The author correctly states that, “As a major economy, we need a strategic, diversified approach to energy development,” but then goes on to reach exactly the wrong conclusion for how we should achieve that goal.  Closing off America’s largest domestic oil and gas resource, not only ignores fundamental questions over our future energy security, but also the wishes of a majority of Alaskans.

Exactly one month before leaving office, the former President invoked an obscure and rarely used provision in a 1953 law, to designate the vast majority of the U.S. Arctic Ocean “indefinitely” off limits to future offshore oil and gas development. For good measure, the Obama administration also removed the planned Arctic lease sales in the existing 5-Year Plan and eliminated future Arctic lease sales in the new Plan. The announcements came as a devastating shock to the diverse set of Alaskan business groups, labor unions, Native organizations, elected officials, and former military leaders who had repeatedly petitioned the Obama administration to do the very opposite.

In newspaper opinions, congressional testimonies, meetings with administration officials, and even a series of advertisements, groups representing wide-ranging interests, came together to advocate for continued offshore oil and gas development and ensure that Alaska’s perspective was heard beyond state lines and especially by decision makers in Washington, D.C.

Considering how frequently Alaskan and Native views have been misrepresented by activist groups, it is no wonder that they felt compelled to tell the rest of the country how they really feel about Arctic drilling: They overwhelmingly support it.

A 2016 poll commissioned by the Arctic Energy Center highlighted this point in the clearest terms, with 76 percent of Alaskans backing offshore resource development. And as a new infographic we have released today shows, two thirds of respondents feel that the opinions of local residents should matter most on the issue, and also believe that banning oil and gas development in Arctic waters is a clear example of federal overreach.

Significantly our poll also canvassed Native groups, including those on Alaska’s North Slope, for the first time. As the communities which would see the most direct impact of development, their opinions have often been misrepresented by environmental groups that have frequently justified a ban in their name. When announcing its moratorium, the White House even cited the need to protect Arctic waters “which many Alaska Native communities rely (on) for subsistence use and cultural traditions”.

But our survey demonstrated that this argument is completely out-of-step with Alaskan Natives’ actual views, 72 percent of whom support oil and gas development in the Arctic. And having been burned by “special interest groups (that) continue to use our people and culture as a backdrop for their fundraising agendas or to further their anti-development views,” as Wainwright Mayor John Hopson, Jr. put it, it is unsurprising that almost 80 percent of Native respondents believe that their opinions should be prioritized.

The results of our research have since been echoed by other Native leaders. Following President Obama’s ban, Sayers Tuzroyluk, Sr., head of the Voice of the Arctic Inupiat wrote, for “those of us who live in the Arctic, it’s difficult to ignore the fact that his eleventh-hour actions benefit the environmental groups more than they do us – the people directly affected by selfish decisions made on his watch … Our region has once again been used as a tool for elevating Obama’s personal environmental record while sticking it to the people who live here.”

Fortunately for Alaskans a silver lining exists. Contrary to the claims of environmental activists determined to maintain the moratorium by any means possible, the incoming administration will have the opportunity to reverse the decision and put the state back on a path towards developing a vibrant, self-sustaining economy.

Previous applications of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act show that the Obama administration’s ban can be undone just as easily as it was made. Almost three decades ago, President George H.W. Bush used the Act to withdraw parcels of American waters from oil and gas leasing in an executive memorandum, a decision that was subsequently rescinded by President George W. Bush, who used the same law to open the areas back up. We urge President Trump to pursue a similar course of action and rescind President Obama’s memorandum within the first 100 days of taking office.

Mr. Miller’s piece concludes that, “Over the last eight years, not only have we reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but we have also grown our economy.” We couldn’t agree more. But the means by which this growth was achieved, was through expansive development and use of America’s natural gas, a resource that resides in great measures below the very same Arctic waters Mr. Miller now wants to permanently take out of commission.

To ignore the opinions of the people of Alaska, and the reality of the resource that resides in America’s Arctic, we would forgo not only the tenets of our democracy but our future energy needs. 

Lucas Frances is spokesman of the Arctic Energy Center.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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