Arctic Infrastructure: The Unintended Victim Of The Administration’s Offshore Energy Ban

forbes-01Forbes | January 3, 2017 | Brigham A. McCown

Last week, the Friday afternoon before Christmas, the Obama Administration announced its long expected offshore oil and gas leasing program for 2017 – 2022. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the timing of the statement, the decision was a controversial one; both of the Arctic leases in the proposed plan had been cut, leaving the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska’s Cook Inlet as the only parts of the United States outer continental shelf open to energy development.

The Administration has always acknowledged the essential role that fossil fuel development plays in American life. Last August the President stressed in his weekly address that as long as “our economy still has to rely on oil and gas,” the U.S. “should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports”. And as recently as October top official Amy Pope reiterated the point, noting that “responsibly developing Arctic oil and gas resources aligns with United States’ ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to developing domestic energy resources.”

The about-face – perhaps the product of the shock election result and a newfound urgency to cement the Administration’s environmental legacy – is surprising and comes with significant ramifications. In particular, it is likely to have dire consequences for Native communities who have repeatedly stressed the importance of on and offshore energy development to their economies.

The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, an Alaskan Native group that represents 12,000 Iñupiat people, criticized the decision, warning that a ban on Arctic drilling would “endanger our communities with no regard for the future health of our people and region.” Alaska’s Governor and Congressional delegation in turn issued public statements that that they were “very disappointed” and “infuriated”, denouncing the Administration for “once again capitulating to the demands of extreme environmental groups over Alaskans and their fellow Americans.”

In addition to the impact on the state and Native economies, the ruling also casts a pall of gloom over the future of a number of projects that are integral to asserting America’s presence and leadership in the region.

From expanding docks to enhancing search, rescue and emergency capabilities, the United States needs to build out its infrastructure in order to keep pace with the changing conditions in the Arctic, where melting sea ice is affording greater access but also elevates the risks and strategic imperative of the region.

In the past the resources, capabilities and infrastructure that have supported energy development, have played an essential role in this process. Roads built to access oil and gas facilities have improved local transportation networks, while oil and gas vessels have conducted search-and-rescue missions for a Coast Guard that continues to face severe resource constraints in the region.

Read the full op-ed here.

Mr. McCown is a philanthropist, fmr federal gov't executive, public policy expert, and the founder of the non-profit group

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