Alaska Natives Say Yes to Alaska's Offshore Development
As we enter the final stretches of the presidential campaign, issues that will dictate the future of United States energy are becoming more polarized than ever. Notably, rhetoric continues to intensify surrounding the development of oil and natural gas resources located in the U.S. outer continental shelf (OCS) and specifically in the Arctic region off of Alaska’s coasts. While certain groups continue to voice opposition on these developments, another group integral to the debate continues amplifying its support: Alaska Natives.
The Alaska Native community understands that oil and gas development helps make their way of life possible. This industry contributes the revenues needed to support infrastructure, schools, community centers and other basic services. In fact, it was oil and gas revenues that have been credited for converting North Slope communities, “from basically Third World status to modern communities where we enjoy the pleasure of flushing a toilet,” stated Richard Glenn, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation's executive vice president of lands and natural resources ” Additionally, the industry has been known as the, “only industry that has remained long enough to foster improvements to our remote communities.”
These communities have long supported industry in efforts to utilize and develop the significant amount of Alaskan oil and gas resources. For instance, the Iñupiat which translates to 'the real people' are settled in communities around Alaska’s North Slope and have been in that area for thousands of years. They were present when Alaska Petroleum Co. began leasing land for drilling in 1896; when the first exploratory well was drilled in the American Arctic in 1900; and when a well drilled in the Cook Inlet in 1936 produced enough gas to run a power plant. They have also stood with the industry as it spearheaded research programs to study the Arctic environment, mobilized improvement techniques on drilling techniques, and reduced the surface footprint of well pads by a factor of five while increasing subsurface access by more than ten times.
It’s important to note that Alaskan Native communities haven’t just stood alongside and watched industry make these critical steps forward; they were and are to this day active participants in oil and gas exploration and production. They provide insight and feedback on proposed oil and gas operations that are then incorporated into drilling plans, and they have played an invaluable role in growing the body of scientific knowledge of the Arctic by contributing their traditional knowledge. For decades, they have provided oilfield services, entered into joint ventures with oil and gas companies, and even pursued their own oil and gas exploration projects. This summer, no fewer than two Alaska Native corporations are drilling exploration wells of their own.
Critics of Arctic OCS development grasp stringently to the mentality that environmental stewardship and offshore development are dichotomous goals. They have even led efforts to criticize and derail these projects “on behalf of Alaskan Natives”— mostly from Washington, D.C. Recently, a group of scientists flung their hats into the debate ring and called on the Obama Administration to oppose adding any new OCS leases to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's (BOEM) draft proposal to allow oil and gas leasing during 2017 to 2022 in the offshore Arctic.
Yet, our own organization, the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP), which represents 2,000 Alaska Native middle school students, high school students, university students and ANSEP alumni, is overwhelming at odds with these opposition efforts. And the reason is simple: Alaska Natives will actually live and feel the benefits of Arctic OCS developments. Alaska Natives will see the creation of thousands of new jobs and millions in new revenue that can be invested into communities and local programs.
Unlike the Washington groups claiming to speak on behalf of Alaska Natives, environmental stewardship and offshore development can coexist in harmony.
The opportunities that will emerge from development of Arctic OCS resources will protect the success of Alaska Natives and future generations for decades. That is why we are in full support of these projects and, if anything, encourage BOEM to open up more federal land leases in the Arctic OCS. And as for critics attempting to denigrate and derail these developments, Alaskan Natives say to them: let’s allow these issues to be guided by the hands that have the most at stake in this discussion—Alaska Natives.