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Obama ignores Alaskans, Natives with decision to prohibit Arctic offshore development

Ignoring our collective voice on the OCS is unacceptable


Anthony Edwardsen

Anchorage, Alaska – Today’s announcement from President Obama barring offshore drilling in more areas of the Arctic is a disservice to Alaskans and to the people of the Arctic Slope region. The decision threatens the economic well being of our state and the sustainability of Arctic communities, and demonstrates that the president doesn’t take the needs of Alaskans or the input of indigenous Natives seriously.


AIO and stakeholders throughout the region have worked closely with the president, Interior Secretary and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to communicate concerns regarding climate change, while also expressing broad support for safe and responsible Arctic OCS development.


Using an obscure provision of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), the president ignored Alaskan’s pleas on Arctic development, choosing instead to cement his environmental record by declaring the entire U.S. portion of the Chukchi Sea and the vast majority of the Beaufort Sea off limits to future oil and gas leasing.


The president cited, in part, the protection of Alaska Natives and local communities’ subsistence cultures for his decision, while touting his thorough engagement with indigenous stakeholders and statewide organizations.


However, his decision demonstrates how out of touch the administration is with the views of the local communities and the state of Alaska – where the majority of residents overwhelmingly support offshore development.
An independent statewide survey from October 2016 found that 76 percent of Alaskans support offshore resource development. It also found that 66 percent believe the opinion of local community residents should matter the most when considering policy issues affecting the Arctic.


In his announcement, Obama somehow asserts that his actions will ensure a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy – to include low-impact shipping. Unfortunately, increased commercial shipping isn’t a viable alternative to balance against the economic opportunities he’s removing. The industry will not create a robust economy for our region, but it will leave us with the risks associated with increased shipping routes off our coast.


“Arctic Iñupiat Offshore joins the Governor, the Alaska delegation, the leadership of the North Slope Borough, the Arctic village leadership majority and the overwhelming majority of Alaskans in condemning President Obama’s decision to exercise Section 12(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act,” said Anthony Edwardsen, AIO chairman. “The Arctic is changing, and change brings opportunity. In order to adapt to these changes, we must have a plan moving forward and a robust economy to support it. That the president would ignore such a vocal, involved and outspoken voice from the Native community to put the final touches on his own environmental legacy is unfortunate.”


The withdrawal of such a vast area of Arctic waters from future offshore development deals a tremendous economic blow to the state and the Arctic Slope. Alaska relies on the oil and gas industry for nearly 90 percent of its unrestricted revenue. Directly inland of the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, the North Slope Borough is almost entirely supported by the industry, with 99 percent of its income coming from oil and gas taxation.


“The United States is an Arctic nation entirely because of Alaska, and it holds the esteemed chairmanship of the Arctic Council – a government organization created to improve economic and living conditions in Arctic communities. So it would make sense if the president and his administration chose to engage on issues that would positively enhance life in the Arctic,” said AIO President Rex A. Rock Sr. “Unfortunately, at least for Alaskans and particularly for those of us who live above the Arctic Circle, the administration’s engagement relative to the OCS has done far more harm than good – especially when it comes to protecting our economy or sustaining our communities.”


Today’s announcement – only weeks after the cancelation of Arctic lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas through 2022 – is a reversal from Obama’s earlier commitment to domestic energy production and his “all of the above” energy strategy.


Natives of the Arctic Slope have been consistent in calling for economic opportunities in the region, to include offshore oil and gas, and ignoring our collective voice on the OCS is unacceptable.


Arctic Iñupiat Offshore, LLC (AIO) was established in 2014 to promote sustainable economic development within the Arctic Slope Region. Its primary focus includes creating alignment for responsible development, and planning for the future of the Arctic Iñupiat when it comes to development decisions that affect our region.

AIO members include: Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, Atqasuk Corporation, Kaktovik Iñupiat Corporation, Nunamiut Corporation, Olgoonik Corporation, Tikigaq Corporation and Ukpeaġvik Iñupiat Corporation.


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