U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, pressed the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to maintain all three lease sales proposed for Alaska’s outer-continental shelf (OCS) in its final program for 2017 through 2022. Murkowski’s comments came during Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
“The Interior Department’s treatment of the Alaska OCS has been extremely frustrating,” Murkowski said. “Right now, we have only the shadow of a program for three major planning areas in Alaska. The proposed program for the next five years includes just three sales with targeted acreage, not the areawide sales that Alaskans have advocated for this past decade. Department officials have even implied there is waning industry interest in Alaska – but above all, it is the chaotic federal regulatory regime that is discouraging investment.”
Murkowski, chairman of the committee, questioned Ms. Abigail Hopper, the Director of BOEM, on a tweet the agency sent out Thursday that suggests the agency is not acting in an impartial manner as it evaluates which lease sales to keep in its final program.
“The question is whether you will treat that lack of local opposition and the overwhelming support of Alaskans in favor of development as a reason to retain the three Alaska OCS sales in the final program,” Murkowski said. “I looked at [the tweet] and it doesn’t necessarily show me that there’s impartiality within BOEM. How do we not conclude that the die is already cast and that your agency has already decided what it is that you are going to be doing?”
Murkowski touted the significant economic benefits that would be associated with offshore development in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, which contain an estimated 23.6 billion barrels of oil and 104.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. An analysis by Northern Economics and the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that development of those resources could create 35,000 jobs and generate billions of dollars in revenues for the state and local governments. Murkowski also noted that offshore development is strongly supported by Alaskans, with a 2014 poll finding that 73 percent of local residents support Arctic drilling.
“We are at a rare moment where we can plan ahead to meet our future needs, without facing a supply or price-related emergency. Yet, we are not taking advantage of it. By choosing not to produce here, we are telling other countries – some of them rather nefarious – that we would rather buy from them. And we are giving away the jobs, the revenues, the growth, and the security that would all come with that energy development,” Murkowski said.
Thursday’s hearing is the latest in Murkowski’s effort to keep the three Alaska OCS lease sales in the administration’s final OCS plan for 2017 through 2022. The Alaska congressional delegation also sent a joint letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell earlier this week, making the case for development of Alaska’s vast Arctic resources.