WASHINGTON, D.C. – Obama administration officials and former leaders of the US Armed Forces expressed support for Arctic oil and gas development at an Atlantic Council event on geopolitics, security, and energy in the Arctic, sponsored by the Arctic Energy Center, yesterday afternoon.
In October 2015, the US Department of the Interior (DoI) canceled Arctic lease sales over the next two years. Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 237 was scheduled for 2016, and Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 242 was scheduled for the first half of 2017.
In January 2015, the draft proposed program for the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program for 2017-2022 includes three areas offshore Alaska, and various industry groups have expressed strong support for their inclusion in the final program.
Amy Pope, Vice Chair of the White House Arctic Executive Steering Committee and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor and Deputy Assistant to the president in the White House National Security Council, said the Arctic will “likely continue to provide valuable supplies to meet US energy needs into the future,” and that “responsibly developing Arctic oil and gas resources aligns with United States’ ‘all-of-the-above’ approach to developing domestic energy resources.”
Admiral Robert Papp, the State Department’s Special Representative for the Arctic and former Commandant of the Coast Guard, backed the region’s inclusion in the administration’s offshore oil and gas leasing program: “I personally agree with all our Alaskan friends who have been here. We have to maintain our options [by including the Arctic]. And I think that somehow encouraging further development is important, simply because we are going to be dependent upon petroleum and gas for a long time.”
The comments come as the DOI prepares to announce its 2017-2022 OCS Oil and Gas Leasing Program later this year. At present, two Arctic sales are included in the plan (the Beaufort Sea in 2020 and the Chukchi Sea 2022), but they are targeted by an aggressive campaign by environmental activist groups to pressure the administration into canceling the sales and banning drilling in the Arctic permanently.
During the event, Pope stressed that consultation with Alaska Native and indigenous communities is a “core principle of our national strategy for the Arctic region” and “absolutely paramount to a successful approach in the region.”
North Slope leaders have repeatedly spoken in favor of offshore development in Arctic waters. Earlier this week, Arctic Iñupiat Offshore, a joint venture of organizations that collectively represent around 13,000 Iñupiat people, announced that it was joining the Arctic Coalition, a national campaign to urge the Obama administration to include the Arctic in the forthcoming leasing plan.
Pope also argued that increased human activity in the Arctic “requires the United States to assert a more active and effective national presence to protect its Arctic interests” in order to “to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce, scientific research, to allow for search-and-rescue capabilities, ultimately to provide for regional peace and stability.”
Asserting a greater presence in the Arctic will be made more challenging by America’s current lack of infrastructure and development in the region. As Adm. Papp noted, “Whether you’re talking about energy security or any other form of security in the Arctic, you need to have the infrastructure in place … Right now, we don’t have a forward operating base, a deepwater port up there. There’s no fiber-optic cable for communications up in the area right now. Airfields could use expansion and increased capabilities for servicing aircrafts. The nearest Coast Guard air station is 800 mi [1,287 km] away.”
During the event, numerous former military leaders and security experts argued that developing offshore energy resources in the Arctic is critical to securing America’s interests and establishing the infrastructure needed in the Arctic. The speakers included former Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard and former Deputy Secretary of the Department of Transportation Adm. Thomas Barrett, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Rear Adm. Donald Loren, former Lt. Gov. of Alaska Mead Treadwell, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Joseph Ralston and former Coast Guard Commandant Adm. James Loy.