Borough mayor on new potential development coming to the North Slope

The North Slope Borough’s main building in Utqiaġvik. (Photo by Ravenna Koenig/ Alaska’s Energy Desk)

The Trump administration’s vision for American “energy dominance” has big implications for Alaska, and this winter, some of them became more concrete. In December, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) was opened to drilling. And in January the Interior Department released a new draft plan to open most of Alaska’s coastal waters to oil development.

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One of the places that stands to be significantly impacted by those decisions is the North Slope.

Harry K. Brower Jr., is the mayor of the North Slope Borough. He works out of a big mint-green building smack dab in the center of Utqiaġvik — with his name and title printed on the front.

On the second floor of the building, Brower sits at a conference table in his office and talks about some of the changes that may be coming to the region.

The North Slope Borough has the ability to tax oil and gas infrastructure within its borders, and that money is what allows them to build roads, keep the schools open and pay for the fire department.

But as the prospect of offshore drilling in the Arctic takes shape, the borough is also registering its concerns for how to protect the bowhead whale and other marine life people here depend on for food.

“Offshore activity is one that’s most important to us because it’s been providing our sustenance for thousands of years,” Brower said.  “And here’s a new administration wanting to go full bore: let’s go and explore and develop whatever we can.”

Already, the borough has been in touch with the Interior Department, requesting that certain federal waters stay off-limits for drilling.

When it comes to ANWR, the borough supports opening the area known as the coastal plain — or 1002 area — to oil and gas development. But even so, Brower says that there’s still information his office doesn’t have about how the area will be developed, and how that will impact local residents.

“It’s a very large area of land,” Brower said. “But then there’s no infrastructure. So where’s the interest going to be? Is it going to be close to the current infrastructure, is it going to be further away so they can develop all this infrastructure that’s needed to extract the resource? I don’t know.”

On ANWR and the new offshore plan, the mayor says that communication with the federal government will be key. His office later confirmed by text that the Interior Department is planning site visits to the North Slope and community briefings for later this year.