In recent years, Alaska’s role in the emerging Arctic has taken center stage, and for good reason: It is a place of boundless beauty and tremendous opportunity. For those that appreciate the challenges of what makes our Alaskan homes comfortable and secure, one need to look no further than the great energy developments that have powered Alaska’s economy and America’s energy security for almost a half century. Unfortunately, that energy security is at risk if we forgo the foresight that past leaders envisioned for the great expanse of America’s largest state.
Currently, our nation is realizing the benefits that come from the bountiful supplies born from domestic oil and gas production. We often realize this value when we fill our cars with fuel and heat our homes through the winter. What may be less obvious are the geopolitical implications of our domestic energy production, or what made our current energy situation possible. America now has the flexibility to not import energy from countries which do not share our values on environmental protection or our belief in democracy.
Moving forward, Alaska is the most significant and important resource in creating a safer and more secure nation. How? By unleashing the vast energy resources found in our immense state. Alaska’s energy potential is absolutely staggering. The size of just the oil and gas resources alone is hard even to fathom: a full one-third of the United States’ oil and gas reserves sit off Alaska’s northern coast in a basin that can only be described as an elephant field.
To illustrate its size, think of the 17 billion barrels of oil that have moved down the Trans Alaska Pipeline from Alaska’s North Slope to Valdez in its almost forty years of operation. Now, compare that with the 27 billion barrels estimated in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Add the 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and anyone can see why Alaska’s mammoth energy reserves are a strategic asset to the United States.
Despite this monumental opportunity, this strategic asset is at risk. Why? The Department of the Interior is today closing its public consultation on in its next offshore oil and gas leasing program and there is discussion in Washington D.C. about removing Alaska. It absolutely boggles the mind to think that the United States, which is considered an Arctic nation only because of Alaska, would voluntarily reduce its options for safe and responsible domestic resource development in a state that has been producing oil safely for decades.
While it is true that interest in Arctic Offshore leases has paused during this unprecedented period of low prices and increasing federal regulation, any oil and gas field as promising as Alaska’s Arctic Offshore will eventually attract development; the resource is just too big to be overlooked. We have already seen countries like China and Russia seizing the moment and making bold moves to develop the Arctic. The thought of the U.S. taking steps to actively reduce its position in this emerging part of the globe while countries with less than stellar environmental or civil rights records are ramping up is imprudent and shortsighted. Indeed, shelving this strategic asset during a temporary industry slump is both foolish and irresponsible.
Let there be no confusion what Alaskans, the people who live here and arguably have the greatest interest in protecting the environment and our unique way of life, think about offshore oil and gas development. The truth is the overwhelming majority of Alaskans, including the Alaska Native communities that live and work within the Arctic, strongly support future resource development of our outer continental shelf. Much like the great discoveries in Alaska’s onshore Prudhoe Bay fields, offshore development can play an important role in ensuring America’s future energy security. The industry’s historical commitment to safe operations in the sensitive Arctic environment where it operates, coupled with the huge economic benefits oil production has provided for all Alaskans, are the drivers of this unequivocal, deeply felt support for development among residents.
The first step in making Alaska’s offshore energy a reality is to include Arctic OCS lease sales in the next round of the Department of Interior’s Five-Year Plan. It gives us the option to consider these areas in the future, and to assess the value of these resources when energy needs and economic realities come into play. Disregarding this flexibility is to ignore the energy realities that make our homes in Alaska and across the country, safe and warm. Indeed, including the OCS Arctic region in the new leasing Plan lays a strong foundation for America’s energy future.
Kara Moriarty is the president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, or AOGA. AOGA is a professional trade association whose mission is to foster the long-term viability of the oil and gas industry in Alaska for the benefit of all Alaskans. Its members include Alaska oil and gas producers, explorers, refiners, and transporters.