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Alaska’s oil industry faces uncertainty as Biden targets climate change through emergency orders

 Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (KTUU)
Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (KTUU) (KTUU)
Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 8:17 PM AKST|Updated: Jan. 28, 2021 at 8:33 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - As part of a campaign against climate change, President Joe Biden has signed multiple executive orders targeting fossil fuels. One order has temporarily halted the issuance of new permits for oil drilling on federal land, another has imposed a moratorium on any new oil lease on public land. In Alaska, members of the energy industry are already feeling the impact.

Rebecca Logan, who serves as president of Alaska Support Industry Alliance, says she is aware of at least five companies that have sent workers home from the slope.

“I got a call from someone who said — on day two of the Biden administration after the executive orders had been signed — they said they had to send people home from a project,” Logan told Alaska’s New Source on Thursday.

Many workers losing their jobs are from the state’s more remote communities. Companies like Cruz Construction now find themselves unable to keep staff employed during the winter construction season. Owner Dave Cruz says he sent 50 of his workers home from a well site owned by 88 Energy, earlier this week.

“Our employees are Alaskan residents. They come from small communities, villages and some from large cities too — but primarily small communities and villages,” Cruz said. “For these folks, this wintertime work is probably the only steady work they get in the year.”

It’s an issue that could compound, as the 60-day halt of permits is delaying work that needs to happen now, in order for companies to stay on schedule heading into spring.

“It’s going to have a pronounced negative effect on Alaska, and really harmful to the residents of the north slope borough, and how their government is funded,” Cruz added.

The North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower Jr. provided Alaska’s News Source with a statement regarding the new orders and potential ramifications for his constituents.

“Shutting down the industry that supports virtually everything in our region — especially as we struggle with the effects of a global pandemic — will have very real and negative consequences for the indigenous people, and all residents, of the North Slope,” he said.

The 60-day pause orders for drill permit requests are also a concern for industry insiders who fear the Biden administration might change the permitting process entirely, implementing new policies that could permanently cost Alaska a large chunk of its jobs. According to Alaska Oil and Gas Association President Kara Moriarty, says the orders will not reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, but it will send investors to countries where our environmental regulations are laxer.

“It’s very challenging to make up that difference. It’s not going to be easy to make up a third, or a quarter, or all jobs in the state.”

On the other side, environmental groups have praised Biden’s early actions against climate change.

Jenny-Marie Stryker, the political director of the Alaska Center, called the orders “groundbreaking” and “a powerful shift in the narrative of our country.”

The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association also released a statement applauding the Biden administration’s course of actions related to climate change. One portion of the complimentary passage penned by ALFA Executive Director Linda Behnken on Wednesday afternoon reads:

“Today’s executive action reminds us that these partnerships are more important than ever, and it ensures that they will remain strong as we tackle the generational challenge that climate change represents and develop habitat conservation approaches that work for all Americans, including Alaska’s fishing families.”

On Thursday, 26 United States senators co-signed a letter requesting an audience with the president. The letter directly addresses concerns about the economic hardships that will likely result from a significant loss of jobs, related to the executive orders in question.

“Your actions will have grave consequences for our constituents,” the letter reads. “Taking these actions on your very first week as President, with no input from those of us who represent these hard working Americans is counter to the desires of the American people who want practical, bipartisan solutions to our nation’s challenges, and who want policies that support working families.”

Both sitting U.S. senators from Alaska, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, signed the letter.

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