When it comes to Arctic policy and developing Alaska’s offshore resources, the Alaska Native perspective has been overwhelmingly ignored in favor of outside voices that aim to utilize our resources — and enshrine our land and wildlife — to propagate an image of the Arctic that furthers their own agendas. These outside voices disregard the needs and priorities of the local people, the true stakeholders, who will ultimately live with the economic, social and environmental implications of decisions made regarding offshore exploration and development.
This fact was glaringly obvious while watching a forum on Arctic offshore investment recently, hosted by Roll Call, to discuss the Department of Interior’s proposed five-year Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leasing plan — which currently calls for lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
During the forum, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, provided insight into the importance of future offshore development to our economy. She shed light on the reality that the North Slope region relies virtually exclusively on the oil and gas industry for basic amenities, jobs and to provide for our families. She also reminded us that the state of Alaska, as a whole, is equally dependent upon oil and gas industry revenues.
Other forum participants like Leah Donahey, senior campaign director for the Alaska Wilderness League, completely disregarded the needs of the local people and remained shockingly out of touch with the economic realities in our region and our state.
Donahey’s testimony in opposition to the OCS leases leveraged emotive arguments and incorrect facts regarding Arctic offshore activities that undermined the intelligence of Alaskans, my fellow Native Iñupiat and our well-respected Alaska delegation. She offered no science, no facts, no research — and most importantly — no alternative to how to feasibly replace the opportunities OCS development would bring us.
When questioned about her recommendations on how to replace the resource development opportunities her organization so vehemently opposes, she stated: “I’m not suggesting today that it can be replaced, I’m just suggesting that investing in renewable energy jobs locally, over time, hopefully would take over what types of jobs are available for oil and gas.”
“Over time” and “hopefully” are not good enough for me and my family, as I’m sure it’s not for yours.
We are investing locally in renewables — but this takes time, and they will not power our boats, snowmachines or aircraft that we depend upon for subsistence and transportation. Renewables need to be part of a long-term energy solution, not as a replacement for existing resource jobs we rely on.
Shutting down Arctic development doesn’t solve the climate change challenge either; the rest of the world will continue to produce their hydrocarbons. What the argument for closing the Arctic does do, however, is bring in large donations to the AWL while harming the very communities they purport to save — my village and many like it.
Ms. Donahey, of course, is not from Alaska. That fact doesn’t stop her, however, from attempting to limit our economic opportunities. It doesn’t stop her Washington, D.C. employer, either, from telling us how we should manage our resources to sustain our families and people.
As a whaling captain, a leader on the North Slope and someone with experience with offshore exploration, I will offer a dose of reality for outsiders.
Ninety-nine percent of the North Slope Borough’s budget depends on oil and gas taxation, which is used to provide essential services to our communities. The industry is equally important to the state — providing roughly 90 percent of all unrestricted revenues.
These facts should not be disregarded in favor of feelings that renewable energy investments may someday, somehow offer jobs for our people.
We cannot allow outsiders to disregard the reality of life on the North Slope and Alaska based on some narrow image they decide the Arctic should look like. Further, we cannot allow outside special interest groups to use our iconic wildlife and pristine environment to fund their own agendas.
Unfortunately, while environmental anti-development groups cash their checks, the consequences of their actions will return the Iñupiat people to a standard of living that would be unfit for any 21st Century American. We have the right to economic prosperity, too.
• Rex Allen Rock Sr. is the president of Arctic Iñupiat Offshore, LLC. He is also the president and CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), the largest locally-owned and operated company in Alaska.