Diverse Coalition Calls on University for Fairness
March 18, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 18, 2008
(ANCHORAGE-AK) As a public workshop focused on offshore oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea gets under way today in Anchorage, Bristol Bay community groups and conservation interests are calling attention to the lack of local involvement in the workshop and the strong influence that Shell Oil and other proponents of drilling have exerted on the event.
The North Aleutian Basin Energy-Fisheries Workshop, coordinated by Alaska Sea Grant and University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), is intended to be part of a larger initiative to foster a neutral, non-advocacy dialogue on the issue of offshore oil and gas drilling in Bristol Bay and the southeast Bering Sea. However, evidence shows that the initiative is far from neutral.
Local Bristol Bay community organizations and conservation groups have sent an open letter to the University of Alaska and publicly elected officials citing serious problems with the event. The letter includes a well documented list of concerns pointing to an undue influence by the proponents of drilling and exclusion by local Bristol Bay representatives and conservationists who support protecting the region’s economically, ecologically and culturally important renewable resources from the risks of offshore drilling.
Signatories on the letter include Nunamta Aulukestai, the Bristol Bay Partnership*, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Pacific Environment, Cook Inlet Keeper and University of Alaska professor and conservation specialist, Rick Steiner.
The letter states:
Sea Grant…have failed to take the steps necessary for creating a neutral,
objective, and participatory dialogue on the issue of offshore oil and gas
leasing in Bristol Bay. The North Aleutian
Basin Energy-Fisheries Initiative is highly biased towards the interests most
supportive of offshore oil and gas development in the region and has minimized
the opportunity for participation by others, especially by those who live in
the Bristol Bay region.”
“It is simply unacceptable that Bristol Bay subsistence, Native and fishing interests from the northern part of the bay- individuals that could be seriously affected by offshore drilling- were excluded from this process, despite repeated attempts to be included,” said Terry Hoefferle, executive director of Nunamta Aulukestai or “Caretakers of our land”- an association of eight Native village corporations from the Bristol Bay region.
University officials acknowledge that Shell approached them with the idea for the workshop. The multinational oil giant is the largest funder of the event and a Shell contractor, David Holt, has also been publicly identified as the event’s organizer.
“The workshop is clearly driven by Shell’s desire to drill in the North Aleutian Basin, rather than a desire to explore the many complex risks and issues involved in a balanced way,” said Rick Steiner, Professor at the University of Alaska’s Marine Advisory Program who has worked on offshore oil and gas issues at the university since 1980.
Steiner added, “Along with others in the university, I raised concerns about the timing, focus and sponsorship of this workshop when it was first conceived last year, and told university officials that it was premature at best, politically driven at worst. Our concerns fell on deaf ears.”
The letter also points out problematic connections between Norway’s Bodo University, a partner with UAF in the event, and the oil and gas non-profit group known as the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA). CEA is a lobbying arm of the oil and gas industry that has been actively engaged in efforts to promote offshore leasing in Bristol Bay.
“We cannot accept the idea of Bodo University being a non-biased, academic collaborator on this initiative,” said Kelly Harrell of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “Bodo is directly connected to the oil industry and any input from them on oil and fisheries coexisting in Norway cannot be considered objective.”
The letter further discusses the connections, stating that, “David Holt, the organizer of the forum, is affiliated with all three of these oil industry entities as a contractor for Shell, an associate professor for Bodo University, and Executive Director of the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA).” The letter also points out that Bodo University itself is an affiliate member of CEA.
“As publicly funded institutions, UAF and Sea Grant must address the serious problems with this initiative,” said Terry Hoefferle. “We are hoping that our Governor and other elected officials will listen to our concerns and urge the university to cease collaboration with Shell on this issue that could have severe impacts on the future of our communities and the resources they depend upon.”
In addition to a number of requests made in the letter, the organizations are asking that the University of Alaska refuse to accept any funds from Shell Oil in the future for any activities or research related to offshore drilling in Bristol Bay.
“If Shell is allowed to have any influence on the research agenda pursued by the University related to this highly sensitive and controversial issue, it will create great mistrust and harm the credibility for our public university,” said Rick Steiner.
*Includes Chief Executives of Bristol Bay Native Association (BBNA), Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC), Bristol Bay Native Corporation (BBNC), Bristol Bay Housing Authority (BBHA), Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation (BBAHC)
For more information on the initiative from Sea Grant go to http://seagrant.uaf.edu/conferences/2008/energy-fisheries/index.html .