Arctic Refuge defense draws investor support

Global institutional investors say drilling in ANWR is bad business

Institutional investors with $2.52 trillion in assets have joined with the Gwich’in people of Alaska’s Interior in opposing drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, calling the plan bad business.

The group, which includes global investment manager BNP Paribas Asset Management of Paris, and the New York State Common Retirement Fund, both with assets in the billions, are urging more than 100 oil and gas companies and major banks that could have interests in Arctic operations not to initiate any oil and gas development in ANWR.

“We strongly urge banks and oil and gas companies to honor their fiduciary duty to investors and refuse to engage in drilling in the Arctic Refuge,” they said in a letter to these firms.

Their letter, released by the Sierra Club, along with another letter from the Gwich’in Steering Committee, cites economic and reputation risks along with threats to human rights and the environment.

“We, as investors, encourage expanding support for the wide range of clean energy solutions and sustainable industries in Alaska, instead of helping to destroy this natural wonder,” they said.

The letters come in the wake of a Trump administration decision to begin the process of holding a lease sale to drill in ANWR, targeting an area of the coastal plain which is sacred to the Gwich’in Nation. The area supports the sheltered calving grounds for the Porcupine caribou herd, which provides for 80 percent of their diet, the Gwich’in Steering Committee said.

“Any disturbance of the coastal plain would have devastating human and ecological impacts,” the committee said.

The committee cites research commissioned by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, which found that over 70 percent of Americans oppose drilling in ANWR.

“Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would permanently destroy the primary food source of the Gwich’in people, our culture and our way of life,” said Bernadette Demientieff, executive director of the Gwich’In Steering Committee.

“There is no longer any doubt that climate change poses an acute risk not only to our collective way of life, but also to investments made in outdated and highly precarious forms of energy,” said BNP Paribas AM’s Senior Analyst Thibaud Clisson.

“Any dollars invested in Arctic Refuge drilling will not only contribute to accelerating climate change, but will be at serious risk of becoming stranded assets. We are committed both to avoiding that risk and to being part of the climate solution, not the problem,” he said.

New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund, called drilling in ANWR “an exceedingly high-risk gamble that companies and investors should avoid. A global low carbon economy is emerging, driven by the growing opportunities for cleaner energy,” DiNapoli said. “We want our portfolio companies to help build that future, not destroy one of America’s last truly wild places.”

The Trump administration in mid-April began a 60-day scoping period in relation to the oil and gas leasing program on the coastal plain, within the 19.6-million-acre refuge in northeastern Alaska. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation support such development.

The federal Bureau of Land Management this past week released a schedule of public scoping meetings in six Alaska communities to identify issues for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain oil and gas leasing program environmental impact statement. The list includes Kaktovik, May 22; Arctic Village, May 24; Fairbanks, May 29; Anchorage, May 30; Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), May 31; and Venetie, June 12.

BLM officials said the meetings are designed to identify relevant comments, concerns and/or issues that will influence the scope of the EIS and guide its development, including formation of alternatives to the proposed action within parameters outlines in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The meeting schedule is available at  www.blm.gov/alaska/coastal-plain-eis. Fairbanks and Anchorage meetings will be livestreamed at www.blim.ogv/live.

Those unable to attend a meeting are encouraged to participate via the project website. Comments may also be submitted to blm_ak_coastalplain_eis@blm.gov through June 19. For more information or special needs requests, please contact Nicole Hayes at (907) 271-4354 or email blm_ak_coastalplain_eis@blm.gov.

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Margaret Bauman is a veteran Alaska journalist focused on covering fisheries and environmental issues. Bauman has been writing for The Cordova Times since 2010. You can reach her at mbauman@thecordovatimes.com.