In the Arctic, Dan Sullivan blowing smoke to score political points

Climate change is reshaping our planet and the economies it supports, and smart investors are staying away from risky Arctic drilling. [Cover photo: Caribou on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. (Peter Mather/] 

By Bob Shavelson

Bob Shavelson has worked in Alaska conservation for decades, and resides in Homer, Alaska.

When some of the U.S.’s largest banks and investors — including Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley — announced earlier this year they’d stop investing in oil and gas drilling in the Arctic due to climate change, the usual science-deniers came unhinged.

None, however, has been more rapid than Senator Dan Sullivan, who has reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars for his campaign coffers from the oil and gas industry.

In a recent speech to the Resource Development Council, Sullivan told a big story that was long on rhetoric but short on substance, trotting out the familiar bogeyman of “radical environmental extremists” as a cause for Alaska’s woes.

But let’s be serious, does anyone believe some of the biggest banks and investors in the world are cowed by some green groups writing letters and sending petitions? 

Or do you think these financial experts are making forward-looking business decisions based on science and climate projections that will serve the best profit-generating interests of their institutions and their investors in the long term. The big banks don’t make money investing in losing propositions, and it’s now glaringly clear that drilling in the Arctic is a dead end.

Among the accomplishments he boasted to his corporate supporters, Sullivan cited a letter written by the Trump administration’s Office of Comptroller of the Currency that threatens new rules for the big banks that ostensibly would prevent them from denying loans to the oil and gas corporations.

First, there’s the eye-popping irony in Dan Sullivan — a so-called free market capitalist — using the power of the federal government to force a private company into any business arrangement. But, as a Georgetown Law Professor recently noted, the whole notion the federal government can even do such a thing is ludicrous.

What’s perhaps worse, however, is that the oil and gas industry trade press has taken Sullivan’s smoke and mirrors arm waving, and fashioned it into a campaign message — “Big Banks Back Down” — to make it look like Sullivan has done something.

But he hasn’t. To date, none of the big banks have changed course, and they appear firm in their conviction that investing in Artic oil and gas is a losing proposition.

Because the big banks know the science is clear. Climate change is reshaping our planet and the economies it supports, and smart investors are staying away from risky Arctic drilling. 

Now, somebody has to tell Dan Sullivan.