House Democrats are seeking to exploit the reconciliation process with a $3.5 trillion dollar package in pursuit of high priority progressive programs. That wish list includes a litany of items on the left-wing green agenda, with protections against Arctic oil exploration at the top.
Tucked into the massive legislation last week by the House Natural Resources Committee are restored protections to bar drilling within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s (ANWR) 1002 Area, a nearly 1.6 million-acre patch along Alaska’s northern coast opened for oil and gas extraction in 2017.
“There isn’t a more clear example of congressional confusion than the current move by ‘wildlife-above-human-life’ extremists to ban oil and gas drilling in ANWR’s Coastal Plain,” said Rick Whitbeck, the Alaska state director for the energy nonprofit Power the Future. “They forget that Congress authorized and encouraged development in that exact area previously, and that banning future development puts the local indigenous people in peril of having to out-migrate from their village to find jobs to sustain their families.”
If passed, the package would likely seal the fate of drilling prospects in ANWR until Republicans reclaim both chambers of Congress and the White House to reverse course. The Biden administration, meanwhile, has continued to pull every lever to keep operations offline, from suspending oil and gas leases on federal lands to ordering new environmental reviews reassessing proposed projects.
The 1.6 million-acre stretch opened for exploration in 2017 amounts to less than 10 percent of the total refuge (which is roughly the size of South Carolina) off limits to development in northeast Alaska. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, somewhere between 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of recoverable oil remain underneath the surface of the 1002 Area, which would make it one of the most productive oil fields in the country as gas prices reach seven-year highs.
The only tribe living within the proposed boundary for drilling, the Iñupiat, have lobbied Congress for decades to allow development projects to move forward. Radical environmentalists seeking to preserve the entire state — which constitutes nearly a fifth of the entire nation’s landmass — as an untouched museum they’d maybe like to visit one day, however, have successfully exploited the opposition of a rival tribe hundreds of miles south of the 1002 Area to cloak opposition under the moral righteousness of environmental justice.
“The Gwich’in Nation, living in Alaska and Canada and 9,000 strong, make their home on or near the migratory route of the Porcupine caribou herd, and have depended on this herd for their subsistence and culture for thousands of years,” wrote California Democrat Rep. Jared Huffman as he re-introduced legislation in February to permanently ban the Iñupiat from harvesting the resources in their own backyard.
A look into the Gwich’in tribe’s past, however, raises questions about its genuine opposition to drilling in the Arctic Refuge, which remains entirely outside the tribe’s territory.
In the early 1980s, the Gwich’in sought to lease every last inch of its Alaskan Venetie Reserve to oil companies seeking to drill what many thought would be lucrative underground reserves. After exploration turned up short of any prospects for profitable drilling, the Gwich’in became vehemently opposed to oil and gas development across the state and partnered with progressive interests in the campaign.
The caribou, meanwhile, remain unbothered by the oil and gas activity on the North Slope 60 miles southwest of the 1002 Area, with populations continuing to rise and decline with their natural cycle.
Matthew Rexford, the tribal administrator for the Iñupiat village of Kaktovik within the 1002 Area, labeled his own people “refugees on their own lands,” prohibited from accessing the lucrative resources under them even though they are located on a flat plain rarely even visited by Alaskans, let alone elites who can afford the high-dollar trip.
“We are frustrated that we are not being heard and the Iñupiat living in Kaktovik and elsewhere on the North Slope are an ‘inconvenient truth’ to an administration dead set on shutting down Arctic development,” Rexford told The Federalist.
In an August interview, Alaska Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy shared the tribe’s frustrations.
“If we were able to do what we wanted to do, we’d be one of the richest states by far,” Dunleavy told The Federalist.