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Kodiak Daily Mirror: Barrow forum eyes arctic development

Alaska Journal of Commerce

Oct 6, 3:03 AM EDT

BARROW, Alaska (AP) — There was no dancing, singing or Eskimo blanket toss at the North Slope Oil and Gas Forum on Sept. 19-21 in Barrow. Interested parties got right down to business, giving their perspectives on oil development on Alaska’s north coast.

In attendance were more than 200 people, representing residents of the North Slope Borough, as well as state, federal and oil industry officials. Hosted by the North Slope Borough, the event offered a detailed look at the various, and sometimes conflicting, sides of oil development in the Arctic.

The main issues that surfaced were the noted gaps in scientific information, the need for better communication and the continuation of a subsistence culture.

“We need evidence that industry and agencies believe in the protection of our culture enough to occasionally reimburse us in the currency of our culture,” said North Slope Borough Mayor Edward Itta. “That currency is called subsistence.”

Federal agencies agreed that there are data gaps in research and that more work should be done under the direction of the National Science Initiative.

The initiative, headed by John Payne, is a collaborative science-based program developed under the Bureau of Land Management that includes participation from government, the private sector and oil producers. Science-based information gathered by this program is made available to decision-makers.

For the most part, there was no back-and-forth discussion on the issues. Instead, interested parties gave presentations. Representatives from BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell made presentations about projects on the Slope.

Representatives from the producers giving presentations were BP’s Tony Brock, Jon Anderson of ConocoPhillips, Shell’s Susan Moore and Pioneer’s Dale Hoffmann. Each gave presentations about their projects on the Slope.

Opening the first day of the two-day session was Arctic Slope Regional Corp. chief executive officer Bobbi Quintavell.

“One of the remarkable things about this environment (of the forum) is not only our willingness to work with each other, to listen, but to truly hear what the other side is saying,” Quintavell said. “This culture demands performance. It demands performance from governmental agencies, from industry and from ourselves.”

Offshore oil exploration is a risk, Itta said. Subsistence resources in the Arctic outweigh the value of oil and gas resource development.

“This is the difficult topic of this forum,” he said. “We need to know that there is a threshold of subsistence impacts beyond that which industry and agencies will agree and understand not to go. Right now, I don’t see that.”

Quintavell set the stage for what North Slope Mayor Itta hopes will be a positive outcome for the Inupiat people of the North Slope after the borough, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and environmental groups stopped Shell Oil from exploring its offshore leases in the Beaufort Sea earlier this year.

At issue is not only the exploration of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, where an offshore lease sale is scheduled for next February, but also that of developing more onshore oil and gas resources, an option the borough prefers.

For the oil industry and the state, the effort was about keeping oil flowing through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

Itta and Quintavell said they recognize oil development is important to the nation’s energy security, as well to the local economy.

“The issues truly are fundamentally important to this nation, not just the state of Alaska, the North Slope and the villages on the North Slope,” Quintavell said. “The issues that we are throwing around are really going to leave a mark on this country.”

Itta stressed in his opening remarks that a combination of science, traditional experience and more information about global warming in the Arctic must be examined by both sides before proceeding with development.

“Remember we are the only people up here in the Arctic who have to live with the direct environmental impacts of development decades down the road,” Itta said. “The oil companies don’t want an oil spill, but spills are inevitable.”

Itta tossed out the phrase, “Too much, too fast, too soon.”

Delbert Rexford, formerly with the NSB planning department, said that the permitting alone was putting a strain on the borough’s resources and that exploration should be approved on a case-by-case basis. That sentiment was shared by several other North Slope Borough staff who testified or offered input during the discussions.

“It is up to us to define what the next 40 years is going to look like,” Quintavell said.

There were no immediate outcomes after two days of presentations and discussions, but all agreed that the talks were a good start.

“I don’t think that there will be any immediate outcomes from this forum, but it is better to get the issues out in the open,” said Marilyn Crockett, executive director of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, who attended the forum. AOGA is the petroleum industry’s trade association for Alaska.

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