'Science-Based Decision-Making' Means Supporting Arctic Energy Development
Last fall, we made the case for continued Arctic oil and gas development in these pages, explaining that the body of scientific knowledge about the Arctic environment more than justifies why exploration and production should continue.
Unfortunately at the end of last year, the Obama Administration issued a ban on new Arctic leases in the energy-rich portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. Shortly before that decision, the former President also signed an executive order withholding 40,300 square miles of the Bering Sea off Alaska from oil and gas leasing, in order to advance “science-based decision-making.”
As an organization that represents companies specializing in providing the technical tools and innovative services needed to discover the world’s energy resources, we believe that energy policy should be grounded in sound science. But in the Arctic we believe that “science-based decision-making” should actually mean supporting energy development, not restricting it.
Like all oil and gas projects, Arctic exploration and production ventures are fundamentally scientific enterprises, supported by substantial research and a systematized framework of science.
Before they have even begun, companies invest millions of dollars in research to develop a comprehensive understanding of the conditions in which they plan to operate. They send out teams of scientists to study the species – animals, soil, planktonic communities – native to the region, and conduct the seismic surveys which create multi-dimensional maps of the resources that lie beneath the ocean floor.
All of this extensive research is used to inform drilling plans, shape the creation of best practice procedures and drive the establishment of technical innovations. Detailed proposals are submitted to regulators, running hundreds of pages and analyzing any and all potential environmental, geological, geophysical, biological, physical, and sociological effects, in order to make certain that every potential impact has been assessed and mitigated if necessary.
Three dozen federal, state, and local regulatory agencies then consider the plans, factoring each minute aspect of proposed activity into consideration, from air emissions, to choice of equipment, to oil spill prevention mechanisms. As a single indication, the checklist for project plans submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is eleven pages long on its own.
Put simply, each and every proposed project contributes a vast wealth of data to our understanding of the region. As the U.S. Arctic Research Commission noted, the federal government spent $164 million on oil spill research over the course of eleven years. Additionally, for more than 10 years, the IAGC, along with the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) and a wide group of exploration companies, provided $55 million to identify and conduct independent research on various aspects of the interaction of Exploration and Production (E&P) activities and marine life. All of these research investments have done much to improve understanding about the potential impact of E&P sound on marine life.
Sadly by ending any prospect of offshore Arctic energy development for the time being, President Obama has also killed this investment into the Arctic ecosystem and its communities. In addition to the research investments that prelude new exploration projects, the exploration activity is also extremely important to the local economies of northern Alaska. The infrastructure required for Arctic energy projects could be an impressive job creator for the North Slope.
The decision to place the Chukchi and Beaufort off limits not only flies in the face of the substantial body of research that has shown that oil and gas activities can be conducted safely, but even worse closes off any prospect of future research and investment into the Arctic by the private sector. Fortunately, the advent of a new administration provides the opportunity to review and reconsider policies made over the past eight years. We ask President Trump and his administration to prioritize Arctic energy policy.
‘Science-based decision-making’ means supporting Arctic oil and gas development, and we urge the Trump Administration to overturn the ban on exploration Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and open the Arctic back up for oil and gas development and for the advancement of science.