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Do Alaskans Want Offshore Drilling There?

offshoredrillingIt’s one of the most controversial environmental undertakings there is — to get permission to drill off the coast of Alaska and in the Arctic Ocean. But the Arctic Iñupiat Offshore said that it is joining the Arctic Coalition, a collection of 21 Alaskan and nationwide organizations that support responsible energy development there.

Formed in July 2014, Arctic Iñupiat Offshore is a joint venture of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and six North Slope village corporations, created to allow native communities to invest directly in energy-related projects in and near their areas, says the group’s release. In total, it adds, the organizations collectively represent around 13,000 Iñupiat people.

“The campaign we’re helping to launch today emphasizes three essential truths that we believe should be recognized as the foundation for any activity moving forward: That the Iñupiat people must be at the heart of any discussion; that development must be carried out in a safe and responsible manner; and that on and offshore energy play a critical role in the economy of the North Slope,” says Anthony Edwardsen, chair of Arctic Iñupiat Offshore. 

“Too often local people are left out of decisions affecting the North Slope. Arctic Iñupiat Offshore  seeks to be a partner to regulators, operators and native organizations,” he adds. 

President Obama in January 2015 designated portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off limits from consideration for future oil and gas leasing to protect the area’s sensitive environmental resources, the Department of Interior said. “In December 2014, President Obama similarly placed the waters of Bristol Bay off limits to oil and gas development, protecting an area known for its world-class fisheries, it continued.

The Interior Department is expected to announce its leasing program for the next five years by year end, or the 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program. The draft program, revealed in March, still allows for the possibility of lease sales to be held for federally controlled tracts in the Beaufort (2020) and Chukchi (2022) seas, says the pro-drilling Arctic group. 

While the Interior Department has put a halt to drilling off the Atlantic coastline, it has put out for comment the possibility of opening up more acreage in the Arctic Ocean off the Alaskan coast. Recall in the summer of 2015, President Obama toured Alaska in an effort to show how vulnerable the state is to climate change. So, his decision is ironic — the one to potentially open up more space there to offshore drilling.

It’s especially interesting because last September, Royal Dutch Shell had said would not go ahead and explore for oil and gas in the Arctic even though it had limited approval to do so. A lot of experts pegged that to cheap oil and natural gas prices.

With oil and gas prices low by historical standards, the decision to allow for drilling in the Arctic will have little economic impact, for now. However, producers are thinking long term and know that such prices often gravitate to their historical averages, meaning that the value of oil and gas will rise over time. From the stand point of the oil and gas sectors, the sooner they get the exploration rights, the better.

It’s probably something to be decided by the next presidential administration.

As far as President Obama goes, he may be more inclined at this point to secure his place in environmental history. That is, he has vowed to decrease the rate of carbon emissions and by extension, to help the country rely increasingly on cleaner burning fuels both for transportation and power generation. Basically, the president can’t lose by refusing to grant less exploration rights offshore: Little development would actually occur at this time while it pleases the environmentalists.

“The argument for accessing Arctic resources relies on two statistics: One is that nearly a quarter of the unexploited oil and gas likely lies in that area. The other is a belief that oil consumption will drive inexorably higher in the coming years and new frontiers need to be found,” says Vikram Rao, executive director of Research Triangle Energy Consortium, in an earlier conversation with this writer.

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