News-Miner opinion: Anyone who thought the effort to finally produce oil from the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ended with President Donald Trump’s signature on legislation in December 2017 allowing it would have been mistaken.
Grossly mistaken, in fact.
The bill President Trump signed — the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act — contained provisions allowing for oil development on 2,000 nonwilderness acres of the ANWR coastal plain’s 1.5 million acres. The coastal plain itself is a small part of the 19.3 million acre Arctic refuge.
ANWR has for decades been such a lightning rod in the debate about the nation’s energy future. National environmental organizations have through the years mobilized heavily to thwart previous efforts to allow oil development in the coastal plain — an area set aside precisely for potential oil development under the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act but requiring passage of a separate law authorizing the leasing of land for such development. That separate law was contained in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act the president signed in 2017.
So everything should be ready to go for development, right? The years of fighting about it came to a close with President’s Trump’s signature, correct?
Maybe on the government side of things.
But anti-development pressure can still be brought to bear on the oil companies and the lending institutions that those companies might turn to for financing. And it is, in fact, being brought.
Goldman Sachs bank in November updated its 2015 guidelines to state it will not directly finance Arctic oil projects: “We will decline any financing transaction that directly supports new upstream Arctic oil exploration or development. This includes but is not limited to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.”
That decision led 16 Democratic senators to send a letter on Jan. 30 to the CEOs of 11 leading banks urging them to follow Goldman Sachs’ lead and likewise prohibit the funding of oil and gas exploration in the Arctic refuge.
And, as you might then gather, a response quickly followed to those same 11 CEOs from the three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation. The two-page letter sent Tuesday offers refutations of points in the Democrats’ letter and then makes observations about those Democratic senators:
“We encourage you to remember that several who signed the letter come from states that produce significantly more oil than Alaska. Others come from states that import and utilize oil from Alaska. One signee hails from a state that recently turned to Russian LNG over American shale, and another is waging a presidential campaign to ‘break up big banks’ while dramatically raising taxes levied on them.”
So is the decades-long effort to get oil out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over?
No. Rather, it has simply shifted from a debate about government policy, which is now set, to the private sector’s involvement in that policy.
How corporate leaders and shareholders respond may become the deciding factor in whether oil ever gets out of the Arctic refuge’s ground.