The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Energy and Alaska

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted August 28, 2015

When President Obama arrives in Alaska on Monday, he is expected to spend much of his time talking about climate. From a White House explainer on the president’s visit:

… President Obama will travel to Alaska and shine a spotlight on what Alaskans in particular have come to know: Climate change is one of the biggest threats we face, it is being driven by human activity, and it is disrupting Americans’ lives right now.

What the president should hear is that the people of Alaska, one of the most energy resource-rich states in the Union, embrace both energy development and climate and environmental goals. They’ve lived that embrace and depend on it. They’re wary of Washington disrupting the relationship. While the Obama administration has approved Shell’s exploratory drilling in the waters off the state’s northern coast, it also has moved to exclude energy development in other state areas. Concern is reflected in a recent letter to the president from state groups representing union members, construction workers, businesses, energy companies and consumers:

Alaska benefits from a diversified economy anchored in the responsible development of oil and natural gas resources, forestry, mining, fishing, and tourism, all of which successfully co-exist. Exploration and development of Alaska’s vast resources have always provided a firm foundation for the state’s economy and opportunities for sustained employment. … The very concept of Alaska’s statehood is predicated on the development of our natural resources.

The letter points out that since Alaska became a state in 1959, 88 percent of state revenue from all natural resource development has come from oil and natural gas. Oil and gas industry spending accounts for 110,000 jobs and $6 billion in public and private wages. Economic impacts from oil and natural gas activity in Alaska extends well beyond the state’s borders, the letter says, “benefiting every major area of the economy and energy consumers throughout the country.”


Support for energy development in Alaska also comes from native peoples. The Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, representing the business interests of about 12,000 Arctic Slope Inupiat, is scheduled to air a 30-second television ad, stressing the importance of energy development, in time to greet the president. Fuel reports:

The spot describes Arctic resource development as “vital” to Alaskans, but warns that “Washington policies threaten our survival and our economy.” Over footage of environmentalists in kayaks clustered around a Shell-contracted drilling rig, the advertisement decries “outsiders” who “try to speak for Alaskans,” but don’t understand their way of life.

The presence of non-Alaskans acting and talking as though they know what’s best for Alaska certainly pinches a nerve with Alaskans – again, people who’ve known the benefits of safe and responsible oil and natural gas development for decades.

So, when the president arrives to talk climate and the environment, he also should hear what Alaskans say about a way of life that largely revolves around energy, about the nexus of energy development and stewardship and the need for carefully managed yet expedient access to oil and natural gas reserves – much of which remain largely off limits in Alaska, as this offshore map shows:


The president and his team should acknowledge the Arctic’s vast offshore energy potential – estimated to contain 48 billion barrels of oil – which obviously is important to Alaskans and their economy but also to the security of the United States:  


Similar energy potential is believed to exist onshore in Alaska, in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which bookend the prolific production fields of Prudhoe Bay.

America needs energy production from Alaska and so do Alaskans. Appreciating the president’s concern for climate disruptions to people’s lives, there also should be consideration of disruptions to the lives of people in an energy-producing state stemming from overly restrictive energy policies and unnecessarily burdensome regulation. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski also wrote to President Obama on the eve of his visit, urging him to recognize energy’s role in her state and to not use climate “as an excuse to deprive Alaskans of our best economic prospects.” Murkowski:

I sincerely hope you agree that any federal effort you may initiate in Alaska needs to leave a lasting legacy of improving the lives of our people. That is only possible if federal agencies actively collaborate with Alaskans to build capacity in Alaska.


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.