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Friday, January 30, 2015

Arctic Drilling Restrictions Strike A Nerve In Alaska

This 2007 photo provided by Shell Exploration & Production Company shows the Frontier Discoverer drilling rig as it sits in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. (Shell Exploration & Production via AP)

This 2007 photo provided by Shell Exploration & Production Company shows the Frontier Discoverer drilling rig as it sits in Dutch Harbor, Alaska. (Shell Exploration & Production via AP)

President Obama’s plan to restrict drilling in the Arctic has hit a nerve in Alaska. This week the president called for a drilling ban off coastal waters, and said he’d ask Congress to permanently protect 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Alaska politicians spent the week blasting his plan. Among them were Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and Independent Gov. Bill Walker, who said the restrictions would harm Alaska’s economy. The oil-dependent state faces a $3.5 billion deficit this year, and depends on oil and gas revenue for close to 90 percent of its budget.

Here & Now’s Peter O’Dowd speaks with Gov. Walker about his opposition to the ANWR proposal and the president’s memorandum, which put more water off-limits to drilling.

Interview Highlights: Bill Walker

On his reaction to Obama’s plan to restrict drilling

“I’ve lived here all my life. I was born in Fairbanks. I heard the same exact arguments when we were going to build the Trans Alaska Oil Pipeline, that things were too special to drill on the North Slope. All the arguments that I’m hearing now are identical to arguments I heard then, it just hasn’t proved out to be the case. We’ve seen the Caribou herds increase in population in areas that we’ve had development. It’s an area that we certainly want to protect, we will protect, but my goodness, you know, the area we want to explore is equivalent to a quarter, a 25 cent piece, on a football field. So this is absolutely ridiculous, what lengths are being gone to to make a statement as though this is a major environmental upset on someone’s part. It’s just not. The facts don’t prove it out and I’m very upset with them.”

“I’m not going to allow geopolitics to be resolved on the backs of Alaskans.”

“I’m not going to allow geopolitics to be resolved on the backs of Alaskans. And so, we are going to explore for more oil and put more of that oil in the pipeline.”

How can Alaska ensure more drilling won’t cause a major environmental problem?

“You know, we can. And some of the most loud protests in Alaska are coming from those very entities. You know, representative Ben Nageak in the House of Representatives has made numerous impassioned speeches since the announcement in frustration, anger, over the fact that we’re being denied our livelihood. The president Rex Rock — the president of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation — has been very, very upset about that. It’s just such an overreach, an over step. You know, over half the conservation land in America is in Alaska, so we have more set aside in Alaska than the entire rest of the country combined, and we’re trying to make a living here, we’re trying to live here, we’re trying to have an economy here, and we’re doing it environmentally responsibly. We have an oil pipeline that’s three-quarters empty, we’re in a $10 million a day deficit. I told Secretary Jewel, if they’re going to take away our ability to earn a living and our livelihood, I’m going to send them an invoice for our cost of education and our cost of healthcare. I have no other choice.”

On the economic impact in Alaska

“Our fiscal situation is that we’re in a $3.5 billion deficit this year. I’ve been in office for two months now and we’re doing all we can to reduce that and prepare for how long this is going to be, but we’re in a very significant situation. I can’t impact the price of oil, but I can impact volume of oil in an oil pipeline that’s three-quarters empty.”

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