The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Arctic Energy Development is in Our Hands

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted April 20, 2015

A couple of important points on Arctic energy development from U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska at an event hosted recently by CSIS:

  • The biggest obstacle to U.S. development of its Arctic energy reserves is the U.S.
  • Development of Arctic energy resources will occur regardless of whether the United States engages in it.
  • A discussion of Arctic energy must give weight to the needs and concerns of Alaskans, many of whom directly depend on energy development for the quality of their lives.

No question, the Alaska senator offers an Alaskan point of view that’s compelling – as she and others try to connect the Washington debate over Arctic energy policy with the state that is most heavily vested in the debate’s outcome.

More from Murkowski below. But first, let’s note that her CSIS remarks parallel points made in recent comments submitted by API and seven other energy industry groups to federal officials on the government’s 2017-2022 offshore oil and natural gas leasing program. Specifically, the groups point out that the Arctic’s Chukchi and Beaufort seas contain vast oil and natural gas wealth, the development of which could generate as many as 50,000 jobs, according to one study. Unfortunately, the federal government’s support for Arctic development so far has been less than bold. The energy groups wrote:

While approximately 650 leases netting the federal government billions of dollars have been awarded to companies interested in oil and gas exploration in federal waters offshore Alaska since 2005, significant federal regulatory obstacles remain and to date not a single well has been drilled to its targeted hydrocarbon depth in this area. Additionally, four Chukchi and Beaufort Sea lease sales that were included in the 2007-2012 Program and proposed to take place between 2009 and 2012 were cancelled. Only three lease sales are included in the current 2012-2017 Leasing Program, one each in the Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea and Cook Inlet. Whether or not these lease sales will be held is unknown. … The Associations are pleased that BOEM recognizes the importance of continued Alaskan OCS exploration and development and has proposed lease sales in the Chukchi, Beaufort, and Cook Inlet in the DPP. However, while other Arctic nations such as Russia and Norway are aggressively developing Arctic resources, the U.S. risks being left behind.

Murkowski told the CSIS audience Washington needs to step up its game in the Arctic:

“I would suggest to you that perhaps the biggest challenge that we face right now on Arctic policy is not with other members of the Arctic Council, including Russia. It is not with the rest of the international community, which is taking a very interested focus on the far north. It is not with the permanent participant groups, representing the indigenous peoples of the Arctic, who are truly impacted more so than anyone else by the decisions of the Arctic nations. But I would suggest to you that the biggest challenge for the United States is the United States itself. We face hurdles both at a public interest level and a government policy level.”

Murkowski called the U.S. an “Arctic Nation,” because every state has a stake in the Arctic – in terms of energy, trade and national security. She called the federal government’s performance so far “incomplete” and said “we have not yet done what we need to do in these areas.”

Perhaps most compellingly, Murkowski said Washington’s Arctic policy discussion often gives too little attention to the real-life concerns of Alaskans:

“Many non-Arctic residents, they view the Arctic as this pristine untouched environment. I described it as something akin to a snow globe that sits on the shelf and it is pretty and it is contained and it always looks the same. … But our Arctic is an area that is home to nearly 4 million people. Humans have been living and hunting and working there for thousands of years. They have been harvesting the natural resources of the region. They have been developing the land. They live and work and raise their families there.”

The senator said discussion of climate impacts in the Arctic are important but, that can’t be the only discussion – which she suggested is the administration’s position:

“… it cannot be our sole and singular focus. And it cannot be held over or held against the people of the Arctic. It should not be used as an excuse to prevent those who live in the Arctic from developing the resources available to them in order to create a better standard of living. My objection and the objection of many who live in Alaska, is that this administration has placed climate change policy goals above everything else, including the welfare of those who live in the Arctic.”

Murkowski credited oil development on Alaska’s North Slope with 200 years’ worth of economic development over roughly three decades. That has had real effect on individual lives, she said:

“… as a result of responsible resource development, more people on the North Slope of Alaska now have access to medical clinics that could provide care for themselves, their loved ones. They have improved telecommunications and search and rescue equipment for hunting parties that previously would have simply disappeared on the ice, never to be heard from again. They have access to other modern amenities that we certainly take for granted, like a simple flush toilet. … Those who would oppose resource development would prefer the Inupiat Eskimo using whale oil for heat instead of using the resources of the region to advance their quality of life. … There is no irony in the people in the Arctic benefiting from the economic opportunities available in their region. There’s an irony in deliberately limiting their economic future while claiming now it is for their own good and somehow in their best interests.”

Often – too often – Americans take energy for granted. This especially applies to the lead role played by oil and natural gas in fueling our economy, heating and cooling our homes, getting us where we want to go and more – as well as the people, technologies and infrastructure that go into energy development. Securing that energy doesn’t get enough thought. Simply put, without energy development we can’t have the energy we need.

The benefits of Alaskan energy development are clear, but for them to continue we need policies that foster the investments that will make it happen. That’s the discussion of access to offshore and onshore reserves, underscored in the Arctic. The question is, will the U.S. harness its energy wealth there or let the opportunity pass – while other nations actively engage? As Sen. Murkowski said, the impact of the answer has national and global impact. But it’s also individual and personal.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.