Obama Decision to Block Offshore Energy Development in Arctic for 5 Years 'A Body Blow for Native Communities' and All Americans
By Penny Starr
(CNSNews.com) - The Interior Department announced last week that no offshore leases for oil and gas development in Alaska will be granted for a five-year period, sparking criticism of the decision and its detrimental effect on local communities.
"Today's announcement is a body blow for the Native communities, businesses, elected officials, military experts and other Alaskans who repeatedly have pleaded with the White House to allow offshore energy development in the Arctic," Lucas Frances, a spokesperson for the Arctic Energy Center (AEC), said in statement after the decision was announced on Friday.
"Having been told that local views would take priority, they have now seen that the exact opposite is true and their wishes have been ignored in the name of legacy building," Frances added.
"As a result of this decision, people across Alaska will be looking to the Trump administration to quickly tear up the lease plan and implement an entirely new schedule, which includes the Arctic and helps secure the state's future," Frances said.
The Arctic Coalition, a group of 21 Alaskan and national business, industry, educational and labor organizations, called the Obama administration's decision "a kick in the gut to Alaskans."
"The Obama administration's decision to close America's Arctic to energy development is a kick in the gut to Alaskans," the coalition said in a statement published on AEC's website. "Despite repeatedly claiming that local views should take priority in the final decision, the White House has chosen to ignore the clear majority of Alaska Natives, Labor, industry, and Alaska's diverse community that have called for the Arctic to be included in the plan.
"The Arctic Coalition represents the majority opinion of Alaskans and majorities across the country who understand that Arctic energy has been produced safely for decades and should be included in America's energy plan," the statement said. "As those that understand what is at stake for our communities, we stand in strong support of safe offshore Arctic development."
Jack Gerard, CEO of the oil and gas national trade association, American Petroleum Institute, said the decision weakens U.S. energy security.
"Today's announcement is a short-sighted decision that ignores America's long-term energy security needs," Gerard said. "Our national energy security depends on our ability to produce oil and natural gas here in the U.S. and this decision could very well increase the cost of energy for American consumers and close the door on creating new jobs and new investments for years.
"We are hopeful the incoming administration will reverse this decision - consistent with the will of American voters," Gerard said.
"The majority of American voters support increased production of U.S. oil and natural gas, yet this administration made the detrimental decision to take an important opportunity for future production off the table, along with hundreds of thousands of potential jobs and tens of billions of dollars in government revenue," Gerard said. "We need government to embrace the energy renaissance instead of continuing to drag its feet on developing our domestic resources."
But environmentalists are praising Obama, including EarthJustice, a left-wing organization that provides legal representation for these kinds of causes. EarthJustice also is providing legal services for those trying to halt the Access Dakota Pipeline project.
"The Obama Administration took bold action today, announcing it will exclude the Arctic Ocean from its oil and gas leasing program for the next five years," EarthJustice said in a commentary published in the Arctic Journal. "This decision builds on its earlier move to exclude the Atlantic coast from leasing.
"The Arctic is ground zero for the devastating impacts of climate change, warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet - sea ice is declining, permafrost is melting, and coastlines are eroding," the commentary said. "And along the Atlantic coast, residents and businesses rely on healthy oceans for their way of life.
"Oil spills and sea-level rise would devastate these coastlines and all that depends on them," it said. "There is no reason-ever-to expand drilling in our publicly owned waters."
The commentary concluded that the "removal of proposed Atlantic leases, moves America closer to a clean energy economy that we must fully embrace for the sake of our children and grandchildren."
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) Director Abigail Hopper defended the move in a joint press release issued on Friday.
"The plan focuses lease sales in the best places - those with the highest resource potential, lowest conflict, and established infrastructure - and removes regions that are simply not right to lease," Jewell said. "Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry's declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward."
"The plan was informed by robust stakeholder engagement and the best available science," Hopper said. "The proposal makes available more than 70% of the economically recoverable resources, which is ample opportunity for oil and gas development to meet the nation's energy needs."