CIRI hosts energy talks with Interior secretary, senators

CIRI hosted U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Sen. Mark Begich, Sen. Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), Deputy Interior Secretary David Hayes and more than 30 Alaska business leaders at a roundtable discussion about energy issues on Aug. 8. CIRI President and CEO Margie Brown told the group that the biggest obstacle to new Alaska energy development is the “regulatory morass that we find ourselves in.” She said regulatory oversight is important to protect public interests. However, she said, permitting must be timely and consistent to provide the certainty investors and developers need to move forward with Alaska energy projects that would benefit Alaska and national economic and security interests.

Salazar conveyed the Obama administration’s commitment to supporting responsible energy development in Alaska, including in the Arctic. He noted Alaska’s strategic geopolitical importance and the challenge of balancing progress on Arctic exploration, research, oil and gas and infrastructure development with environmental and other interests. He said last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates the importance of deliberate, orderly progress because of the risk that would be created if offshore Arctic drilling starts before appropriate and adequate protection is in place.

Salazar, Begich, Reed and Hayes answered questions from business leaders at the meeting. Many inquiries were related to development obstacles and project investment risks created by permitting delays. Salazar spoke about President Obama’s July 12, 2011, executive order that created an interagency working group on coordination of domestic energy development and permitting in Alaska. Deputy Sec. David Hayes heads that group that is charged with coordinating and streamlining federal regulatory agency oversight.

Salazar also met with the Alaska Federation of Natives, Shell Oil and Barrow village officials and visited the North Slope’s Alpine oil field and the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska during his three-day Alaska visit.