Alaska officials fighting mad over Arctic lease cancellation

When the Obama Administration announced the cancelation of future drilling opportunities in the Arctic Ocean, the reaction of Alaska’s congressional delegation and governor was swift and terrible. Gov. Bill Walker told reporters it’s a violation of the promises made at statehood.

“That’s the part that’s so frustrating for me: when people step over Alaskans to support a cause,” Walker said at a last-minute press conference outside the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in Anchorage. “We are a cause! We’re a cause every single day. And as we struggle with funding on education and energy, I can’t tell you how disappointed I am in this decision.”

Walker says Shell officials told him they wanted the lease extensions, and now, he says, it’s like that door has been slammed in Alaska’s face. Walker says it’s time for bold action, though he said he doesn’t yet know what that is.

“This hits us at our lowest time,” Walker said. “And it’s time we stepped up and said, let’s be Alaskans again. Let’s be more aggressive on this issue.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski says there maybe changes they can make to federal law, and she suggested there might be leverage in her chairmanship of the Senate subcommittee that funds the entire Interior Department.

“I think this has caught all of us by surprise,” she said. “I think what you’re going to see is a lot conversation between your federal delegation and the state here, in terms of the course forward. But I think it’s fair to say we are not going roll over on this.”

Sen. Dan Sullivan suggested pressing ahead with a lawsuit filed by the Parnell administration to explore in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And Sullivan said what he’s been saying all along: that the Obama administration has it in for Alaska.

“There’s no change here,” Sullivan said. “This administration has been focused on delaying, or shutting down, or taking access away to Alaskans for seven years. This is the policy. The president’s visit or no visit. Look at it!”

Alaska Congressman Don Young does have a plan. Step 1 is to sue. Step 2 is to, essentially, siphon the feds’ oil tank in the Arctic.

“We ought to go right up next to ANWR and go three miles off shore,” Young said. “We’ll rent a rig  … and run the doggone horizontal drilling out 15 miles, which is possible. And we’ll take their oil. See how long that’ll last. That’s my idea.”

Young is apparently not the only one that has occurred to.

“You been reading my email, buddy?” Walker asked him.

Reporter Daysha Eaton contributed to this story.




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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz