Utqiaġvik weighs in on the proposed gas and oil lease plan for ANWR

Slides from the BLM at the Utqiaġvik scoping meeting on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, May 31st, 2018. Public meetings are being held around Alaska to solicit comments on an oil and gas lease program in the 1002 area of the Refuge. (Ravenna Koenig/ Alaska’s Energy Desk.)

The U.S. Interior Department is taking comments about its plan to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas activity.

At public meetings in Fairbanks and Anchorage earlier this week, hundreds of people turned out, including organized protesters.

A much smaller group gathered Thursday night, May 31st, at the meeting in Utqiaġvik. In a departure from the other meetings, the primary focus was on the details that should be considered as development moves forward, rather than whether or not it should happen.

Sixty-some people showed up at the Iñupiat Heritage Center in Utqiaġvik to weigh in on the Trump administration’s plan to develop an oil and gas lease program in ANWR’s coastal plain.

Some community members expressed enthusiasm about employment opportunities and additional revenue for the North Slope.

Gordon Brower is with the planning department of the North Slope Borough.

“I think the village corporation and the regional corporation in these areas may be the only ones that have been disenfranchised from their lands and the ability to use their lands since native land claims,” Brower said. “And I think it’s exciting to see the ability of landowners to be able to look forward to what they had envisioned in how to use these resources.”

Many commenters — including those who expressed support — also brought up concerns about how to protect subsistence resources.

One suggestion came from elder and whaling captain Arnold Brower Jr, who said that a percentage of the revenue from the lease sales should go to monitoring and protecting wildlife.

“I think that should be mandatory,” Arnold Brower Jr. said. “I don’t think that the government or North Slope Borough should try to find money to protect these renewable resources. It should be the primary thing funded right off the lease sale.”

Joe Balash, with the Department of Interior, says where the funds go is up to Congress.

“So we’re certainly going to take a look at that and see how far we can go and not run afoul of congress’ authority,” Balash said.

Another suggestion from Arnold Brower Jr, was to implement an agreement like the kind whalers negotiate with oil companies who drill offshore. It’s called the Conflict Avoidance Agreement, and it’s intended to minimize the impacts of development activity on whaling. Balash said he was interested in figuring out how to adapt that process for onshore purposes.

About a dozen people spoke at the meeting. A common theme throughout was the importance of local input as the process moves forward. The meeting concluded a half hour or so early due to the relatively small number of commenters.

The meeting in Utqiaġvik is one of two planned on the North Slope. The other is scheduled to take place in Kaktovik on June 12th.

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