On Arctic Energy Development, Listen To The Locals

In the halls of Washington, regulators are now considering a five-year offshore leasing program that will largely determine Alaska’s role as an energy producer well into the future. Specifically, officials will decide whether to retain three sites for development along the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), a region rich in oil and natural gas, and vital for ensuring America’s long-term energy security.

Far removed from the towns and villages whose livelihood depends on Alaska’s vast natural resources, those final determinations will no doubt be influenced by interest groups and activists who purport to speak on Alaskans’ behalf. They do not. Overwhelmingly, native communities such as mine support responsible development that is both capable of sustaining long-term growth and  respecting the integrity of our lands. It is imperative that our voices be heard.

It is no secret Alaska’s economy is closely tied to the success of our traditional energy producers. Nearly 90 percent of our state’s public revenues are derived from oil and gas taxes. Energy production provides a third of our state’s jobs and accounts for an even larger percentage of all wages. The auxiliary impact reaches even further, creating demand for goods and services throughout nearly every sector.

For the men and women who live and grow up here, the opportunities created by the energy industry are not mere statistics. They are careers and chances to create a good life for oneself—prospects that are often hard to come by in America’s Last Frontier. Alaska’s contribution to help meet our country’s energy needs is a badge of pride for many, and no one cares more about ensuring the work is done to preserve the environment, culture and heritage of the area.

As an Alaska Native (Yupik and Kenaitze Indian), the energy industry afforded me an avenue to learn and grow professionally, and to give back to the communities in which I grew up—as it has for countless other young men and women. After graduating from the University of Alaska Anchorage and benefitting from the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP), I began a career in engineering, now overseeing energy transportation design and management with the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.

My experience is one of many. Across Alaska there are thousands of workers who make our industry run safely and effectively: engineers, contractors, equipment operators, environmental analysts, labors and welders, accountants, and others representing a broad range of skills and expertise. But if we are to ensure opportunities like these for our children, and our children’s children, we must build toward long-term sustainability. That will only be achieved by continued investment in production capabilities, which is truly an investment in our communities.

The OCS  offers us opportunities. Estimates indicate the U.S. Arctic holds as much as 34 billion barrels of crude oil, enough to offset 15 years of America’s net energy imports at current levels, and the equivalent of 60 billion barrels of natural gas. Those assets make the OCS the eighth-largest oil resource in the world, and the third largest energy reserve in the United States. All of which will help the United States relax its reliance on foreign suppliers.

Alaskans, and all Americans, can’t afford for Washington to let this opportunity get bogged down in red tape or the bureaucratic half-measures that are typical of the Capital Beltway. While policymakers wait, foreign competitors, like Russia and Norway, are actively stepping up their production capabilities in the Arctic.

Perhaps more importantly, by acting now the U.S. will reinforce the country’s energy success story of the past decade, which has seen a steady decline in imports, prices and volatility. The National Petroleum Council reported this year that if development along the OCS starts now the new resources will come online in tandem with the natural slowdown in production in the Lower 48.

I know firsthand it is a false narrative Alaska must choose between production on the OCS and protecting the surrounding environment. Alaska Natives understand safe, responsible production is not only the reality, but we will stand for nothing less. Voice of the Iñupiat, which represents 20 tribal councils, municipalities and local entities endorse offshore development, as do no fewer than five Native corporations.

I commend Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abby Hopper for her visit to Alaska to speak directly with the men and women who live here. I urge Ms. Hopper, and Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel, who are ultimately responsible for determining whether to retain the proposed lease sites, to prioritize our input—over those outside of Alaska who claim to speak for us. Ours is a message dedicated to the best interest of this great state.

Cliff Dolchok is an Alaska Native of Yupik and Kenaitze Indian heritage and an Operations Engineer for Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.