President’s Proposal to Block Beaufort/Chukchi Oil/Gas Development Draws Quick Criticism

BOEM map showing President Obama's withdrawal areas. (in black)
BOEM map showing President Obama’s withdrawal areas. (in black)

Even while opening up areas of the Atlantic in areas that included off-shore Virginia, North and South Carolina and Georgia, to off-shore drilling for oil, President Obama revealed his plan to to propose 9.8 million acres off-limits to to consideration for off-shore development in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. His announcement drew quick reaction and criticism in the state of Alaska.

Stating that his proposal will protect areas that are of critical importance to subsistence Alaska Native subsistence users, as well as marine mammals, other wildlife, and wildlife habitat, President Obama withdrew the Barrow and Kaktovik whaling areas in the Beaufort Sea, and a 25-mile coastal buffer and subsistence areas in the Chukchi Sea. The withdrawal also includes the biologically rich Hanna Shoal area in the Chukchi Sea. These areas, with the exception of the Hanna Shoal area, had previously been excluded from leasing in the 2012-2017 oil and gas program. Three of the five were excluded by the previous administration.

The Hanna Shoal area is a critical habitat for Pacific Walrus who forage and occupy the area throughout the summer months.

The president’s same authority put the Bristol Bay area off-limits last month.

The draft proposal does  allow one lease each in the Chukchi, Beaufort and Cook Inlet areas.

Alaska’s delegation was quick to respond to the president’s proposal. Representative Don Young said in a statement,

“The Obama Administration’s assault on Alaska moves from blocking development opportunities on millions of acres of land to taking enormous portions of the Arctic offshore off the table. In defiance of all statewide elected officials and the Alaska legislature, this President has once again thumbed his nose at the Alaskan people as he opens another front in his ongoing war against our people, our communities, and our social and economic future. It’s becoming undeniably clear, that this Administration does not view Alaska as a sovereign state, but rather as an eco-theme park for the most extreme environmentalist allies of the President and his party.”

Senator Murkowski also made a statement after President Obama’s decision to place portions off-shore of Alaska’s northwest.

“This administration is determined to shut down oil and gas production in Alaska’s federal areas – and this offshore plan is yet another example of their short-sighted thinking,” said Murkowski, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. “The president’s indefinite withdrawal of broad areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas is the same unilateral approach this administration is taking in placing restrictions on the vast energy resources in ANWR and the NPR-A.”

In her statement, Murkowski made mention of  the president’s announcemnt earlier this week that he would make an official recommendation to Congress to designate core areas of the refuge – including its Coastal Plain – as wilderness, the highest level of protection available to public lands. If Congress chooses to act, it would be the largest ever wilderness designation since Congress passed the Wilderness Act over 50 years ago.

The leader of the Alaska House Majority Caucus here in our state also responded to the president’s decision.

“The president just doesn’t get it, or he does get it and doesn’t care about the will and voice of Alaskans. That’s beyond offensive,” Alaska Speaker of the House Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, said. “The bruise from his ANWR proposal isn’t even done coming in yet and he’s already strangling access and development opportunities in two more identified energy-rich sea basins.

“Alaskans don’t work this way and we certainly don’t take kindly to others treating us this way. President Obama’s blatant disregard for the Alaska Natives on the North Slope, should not be allowed to continue. I will stand alongside any of my colleagues as we send this message to the nation’s capital. Yesterday, ANWR. Today, the North Seas. What will he do tomorrow to harm our future?”

The president’s proposal comes as scientists still work to understand arctic sea ice and others work to identify ways to place deep undersea pipelines to protect them from sea ice as they transport oil from producing oil rigs in the future.