Arctic waters should be in lease plan business and labor groups say
U.S. Arctic reserves are hold an estimated 26 billion barrels of oil
ANCHORAGE: Business and labor groups launched a campaign Monday to include Arctic waters in the next federal five-year offshore oil leasing plan.
The 20 groups, mostly based in Alaska, want the Obama administration to retain a Beaufort Sea lease sale in 2020 and a Chukchi Sea lease sale in 2022 within the five-year plan, which covers 2017-2022.
A decision by the Interior Department is expected before the end of the year.
Organized as the Arctic Coalition, the groups purchased a full-page ad in the Washington Post and plans a broadcast and social media campaign, said Lucas Frances, a spokesman for the Arctic Energy Center, one of the coalition groups.
"It's a six-figure ad buy," Frances said. "It's focused, of course, to bring attention to the importance of keeping the Arctic leases in."
Lease sales and Arctic offshore drilling is strongly supported by Alaska elected officials seeking new sources of oil to fill the trans-Alaska pipeline, now running at about one-quarter capacity.
Arctic offshore drilling faces strong opposition by environmental groups. They say industrial activity will harm wildlife in a region already hit hard by climate warming and that petroleum companies have not demonstrated they can clean up spills in ice-choked waters.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in October cancelled Beaufort and Chukchi lease sales in the current five-year plan, citing market conditions and low industry interest.
Her decision followed a September 2015 announcement from Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the only company over the last decade to drill in federal waters, that it would halt exploration in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. Shell cited disappointing results from a well drilled in the Chukchi and an unpredictable federal regulatory environment as its reasons for pulling out.
The pro-drilling campaign will convey multiple reasons for keeping the Arctic option open to drilling, Frances said.
The U.S. Arctic reserves are hold an estimated 26 billion barrels of conventionally recoverable oil, the U.S. Geological Survey has said.
National security experts say private investment and infrastructure in Arctic waters would enhance the country's interests as the region becomes more accessible, Frances said.
Eliminating lease sales because of a lull in investment would be short-sighted, Frances said.
"There's been, somewhat, a pause in some of the investments in the last year or so but that does not foretell the long-term opportunity in the Arctic," he said.
Opponents of Arctic drilling think renewed activity would be "the wrong choice for our climate, for local communities and for species like polar bears and walruses that are already struggling to survive," said Kristen Monsell, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity.
She added: "Arctic drilling simply can't be made safe and the only way to truly protect our climate and wildlife and local communities from the dangers of drilling in the Arctic is to take it out of the five-year plan and keep these dirty fossil fuels in the ground."