|Outer Continental Shelf Testimony April 14, 2009
Mayor Edward Itta, North Slope Borough
Thank you, Mister Secretary. My name is Edward Itta. I am the Mayor of the North Slope Borough, the municipality serving people who have lived along the arctic coast for millennia and survived on the marine mammals we harvest from the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas.
Mister Secretary, like all Alaskans, the people of the North Slope depend on the economic engine of oil development. We have supported onshore oil production for 30 years, and we have partnered with industry and the State in the effort to open ANWR.
But offshore development is a different matter. You have said you want to “strike the right balance,” but the risks and rewards do not balance each other offshore. That’s because spill prevention and response are virtually impossible in arctic waters. I oppose OCS development because of this imbalance, and if it goes forward, I ask that agencies and industry fess up to the extreme risks and commit to the toughest possible precautions to balance these risks.
This has not been done so far. MMS has rolled back previous protections without any scientific justification, and has done such a weak job of matching risks with effective protections that we finally took them to court. For me, that was a last resort, because I have to protect our way of life. Mister Secretary, you represent a new administration and I hope you will require agencies to base decisions on science, not on wishful thinking.
BLM took the right approach as it planned for the latest lease sale in NPR-A. It looked at the science and listened to our concerns, and then increased the deferral area around Teshekpuk Lake. We need a larger deferral area offshore around the bowhead migration route. We also need baseline science that shows the status of areas before activity gets underway. How else can we measure the extent of impacts over time?
As a nation, we need to insist on the best available technologies and world-class protections. If zero-volume discharge is required in the Norwegian Arctic , then we should be just as ambitious. By the same token, if the Norwegians are willing to pour a little oil in the water to test the effectiveness of their cleanup technologies, maybe we should allow our industry to give a real-world demonstration in broken ice. Do we want to know if we’re ready for a spill, or don’t we?
Alaskans have a great deal of faith in the oil industry, and in exchange we should be able to expect the highest standards of caution and protection. That’s what it will take if young people like Edward Ipalook will be able to continue the way of life that defines who we are. Edward recently wrote a letter to President Obama, and he asked that I give it to you to share with the president when you discuss the Alaskan OCS with him. In his letter, Edward refers to the Arctic Ocean as our garden, the place where and I quote “we catch our bowhead whale, and watch as seals pop their heads above the surface. It is a speechless view, as you are caught in a moment of awe.”
That’s a darn good description, and I think all Alaskans can agree that we owe it to Edward and to our future generations to preserve that “speechless view.” It’s going to take more commitment than we’ve seen so far.
Quyanaqpak, Mister Secretary.