Energy & Environment at The Hill

Embracing Arctic offshore exploration for economic and energy security

Tom Anderson

As a proud Alaska Native and an aspiring engineer at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I’m enthused about Alaska’s future, and my role in it.  I’m also convinced that Alaska’s economic sustainability and America’s energy security are inextricably bound to the continuation of safe, responsible oil and natural gas development.  That’s why it is both a state and a national imperative that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) retains the three offshore lease sites in the Outer-Continental Shelf (OCS) five year leasing plan.

During BOEM Director Abby Hopper’s recent visit here, my Alaskan Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP) colleagues and I were honored to convey personally to her our conviction that safe, responsible oil and natural gas exploration is the key to continued job creation, public revenue and reliable access to affordable energy. 

{mosads}The oil and gas industry’s economic impact in Alaska is massive, welcome, and indisputable, accounting for fully one-third of all wage and salary employment in the state – to the tune of 110,000 jobs and over $6 billion in public and private wages.

Equally impressive, the industry’s taxes provided just about 90 percent of the state’s general revenue in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.  

Projections for the future are also profound: developing Alaska’s offshore resources is estimated to generate an average of nearly 55,000 jobs annually, supporting a $145 billion payroll over the next 50 years.

No wonder, then, the industry enjoys such enthusiastic support from the people most directly involved: Alaska Natives like me that comprise ANSEP’s membership and successful graduates working in the field. Over 100 philanthropic organizations, state and federal agencies, middle and high schools, universities and corporations support our program, which reaches students in more than 100 Alaskan communities; our direct and vested interest in Alaska’s long-term economic growth, as well as our commitment to the integrity and natural beauty of our land, is unimpeachable.

Of course, despite the false narrative driven by certain special interests that reside out of state, ANSEP is in good company in our support of industry’s commitment to our state’s offshore exploration. 

The Voice of the Arctic Inupiat, which represents 20 of the 28 entities across the North Slope, including tribal councils, municipal governments and Alaska Native corporations, supports offshore development.  So, too, do the Bering Straits Native Corporation, Aleut CorporationOlgoonik CorporationArctic Slope Regional Corporation and Ahtna Corporation, an analysis of the Department of Interior consultation dockets reveals.

In mid-June, a group of 15 organizations representing tens of thousands of Alaska workers sent a letter to the Obama administration, declaring, “we cannot overstate how critical access and development of the Arctic OCS is to the future health of the Alaskan economy and, ultimately, to the well-being of its citizens.”

But it’s definitely not just about Alaska.  Untapped resources within the Arctic OCS would benefit America’s energy security as well by providing long-lasting support to meet growing energy demand. BOEM, itself, estimates the Arctic holds approximately 26.5 billion barrels of oil – at last year’s demand, which would account for 15 years of U.S. net oil imports – as well as over 131 trillion of cubic feet of natural gas.  Fully 84 percent of the undiscovered oil and gas in the Arctic region lie offshore.

Together, these Alaskan resources constitute the eighth-largest energy reserve in the world.  Would our federal government really consider denying access to them, thereby forcing American reliance on foreign – often dangerous and unstable – suppliers of energy, and at the same time, aggravate Alaska’s current economic woes?  We certainly hope not.

As has been demonstrated since the first exploratory well was drilled in 1900, we have proven that Alaska’s offshore resources can be safely utilized without compromising the safety of local communities or the ecological integrity of surrounding areas.  Significant advances in spill prevention and response technologies ensure there are no environmental impediments to the development of Arctic OCS energy resources.  

Development of the energy resources along the Arctic OCS is vital to long-term economic growth and empowerment of the Alaska Native population, as well as to American energy security. The Obama administration will help meet this objective by retaining the three offshore leasing sites in their five-year plan.

“Ayyaiyak” Stefanie Armstrong is an Inupiaq from Kotzebue, Alaska, and a Masters Candidate in Engineering Science Management at the University of Alaska Anchorage

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.


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