Native Alaskans tout Arctic energy development before president’s visit

WASHINGTON — Alaska natives are delivering a welcome message as President Barack Obama travels to the state, asking him to “continue to support Arctic energy development.”

The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, which represents some 12,000 Alaska natives and holds the rights to about 5 million North Slope acres, is running a 30-second television ad across the state stressing the importance of energy development in the state.

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Described as a “six-figure ad buy,” the ASRC commercial is set to air across the state from Thursday through Sunday; Obama is slated to visit the state Monday through Wednesday.

The spot describes Arctic resource development as “vital” to Alaskans, but warns that “Washington policies threaten our survival and our economy.”

Over footage of environmentalists in kayaks clustered around a Shell-contracted drilling rig, the advertisement decries “outsiders” who “try to speak for Alaskans,” but don’t understand their way of life.

It’s an unusually visible and political move for the ASRC, which has ties to Shell’s ongoing drilling in the Arctic Ocean by virtue of a 2014 agreement that gives six North Slope Inupiat village corporations an option to buy into the company’s oil and gas leases in the Chukchi Sea.

Read more: Shell signs deal with Alaska native group

ASRC CEO Rex Rock said Inupiat Eskimo and other indigenous peoples who have lived in the Arctic for thousands of years are “stewards of the land” who “have the most at stake in protecting an environment that is fundamental to our way of life.”

“We also understand that environmental stewardship does not come at the expense of the responsible development of our natural resources, which is essential to our economic future,” Rock said in a statement.

Alaska natives take varying views toward oil development in Arctic waters around the state, with some deeply opposed to activity they say threatens their way of life and susbsistence culture.

But some native leaders have pressed for more energy development on Capitol Hill, reminding lawmakers that oil and gas development is a critical source of funding, helping to pay for roads, sewer systems and other infrastructure.

The Obama administration has taken a varied approach to Arctic energy development too. Although it has approved Shell’s exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean, Obama also moved earlier this year to wall off oil development near the Chukchi Sea’s Hanna Shoal and in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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