Obama’s Decision to Block Arctic Offshore Energy Development Called a ‘Body Blow' for Native Communities

By Penny Starr | November 22, 2016 | 4:30 AM EST

The administration's decision on Arctic oil and gas development has brought a mixed response. (AP Photo, File)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama’s Interior Department announced last week that no offshore leases for oil and gas development in Alaska will be granted for a five-year period, prompting criticism that the decision could have a detrimental effect on local communities.

Lucas Frances, a spokesperson for the Arctic Energy Center (AEC), called the decision a “body blow” for the communities.

“Today’s announcement is a body blow for the Native communities, businesses, elected officials, military experts and other Alaskans who repeatedly have pleaded with the White House to allow offshore energy development in the Arctic,” he said in statement after the decision was announced on Friday.

“Having been told that local views would take priority, they have now seen that the exact opposite is true and their wishes have been ignored in the name of legacy-building,” he said.

“As a result of this decision, people across Alaska will be looking to the Trump administration to quickly tear up the lease plan and implement an entirely new schedule, which includes the Arctic and helps secure the state’s future.”

“The Obama administration’s decision to close America’s Arctic to energy development is a kick in the gut to Alaskans,” the Arctic Coalition, a group of 21 Alaskan and national business, industry, educational and labor organizations, said in a statement.

“Despite repeatedly claiming that local views should take priority in the final decision, the White House has chosen to ignore the clear majority of Alaska Natives, Labor, industry, and Alaska’s diverse community that have called for the Arctic to be included in the plan.”

Jack Gerard, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, a national oil and gas trade association, said the decision would weaken U.S. energy security.

“Today’s announcement is a short-sighted decision that ignores America’s long-term energy security needs,” Gerard said. “Our national energy security depends on our ability to produce oil and natural gas here in the U.S. and this decision could very well increase the cost of energy for American consumers and close the door on creating new jobs and new investments for years.”

The API, too, expressed hope that the Trump administration would reverse the decision.

Environmentalists praised Obama, however.

“The Obama administration took bold action today, announcing it will exclude the Arctic Ocean from its oil and gas leasing program for the next five years,” the activist group EarthJustice said in a commentary published in the Arctic Journal. “This decision builds on its earlier move to exclude the Atlantic coast from leasing.”

“The Arctic is ground zero for the devastating impacts of climate change, warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet – sea ice is declining, permafrost is melting, and coastlines are eroding,” the commentary said. “And along the Atlantic coast, residents and businesses rely on healthy oceans for their way of life.  

“Oil spills and sea-level rise would devastate these coastlines and all that depends on them,” the article said. “There is no reason – ever – to expand drilling in our publicly owned waters.”

In a joint press release, Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Director Abigail Hopper defended the move.

“Given the unique and challenging Arctic environment and industry’s declining interest in the area, forgoing lease sales in the Arctic is the right path forward, said Jewell. 

“The plan was informed by robust stakeholder engagement and the best available science,” said Hopper. “The proposal makes available more than 70% of the economically recoverable resources, which is ample opportunity for oil and gas development to meet the nation’s energy needs.”