The People of America's Oil and Natural Gas Indusry

Keep Arctic in U.S. Offshore Leasing Plan

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 30, 2016

Thanks to America’s shale energy revolution, the United States is the world’s leading producer of oil and natural gas. The revolution has generated economic lift, increased American security in the world and benefited U.S. trade. Surging natural gas production and use is the main reason the U.S. leads the world in reducing carbon emissions.

These are all great developments for U.S. energy and for our country in general. And Americans recognize it, 73 percent of registered voters in a recent Harris Poll saying they support a national energy policy that ensures safe and responsible development of a secure supply of abundant, affordable and available energy. To get there you must have a robust, forward-looking U.S. offshore oil and natural gas leasing program. Access to domestic energy reserves is fundamental to domestic energy production.  

Unfortunately, the next five-year leasing program now being written by the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) falls short in the vigor and vision departments. It doesn’t include a single lease sale for the Atlantic outer continental shelf (OCS), and there’s genuine concern the final plan also could omit two lease sales in the Arctic OCS – which would impact U.S. energy production and security and also the Alaskan economy.

pointingThe potential ramifications of a 2017-2022 leasing program that doesn’t include areas off Alaska’s northern coast were the focus of an event this week sponsored by the Arctic Energy Center. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, chairman of the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said energy demand projections, the safety of Arctic energy production and Alaskans’ strong support for Arctic development all argue for keeping Arctic lease sales in the next five-year plan.

Together, the Beaufort and Chukchi seas may hold 23.6 billion barrels of oil and 104.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – enough to supply Oregon’s current demand for oil for 371 years and natural gas for 474 years, Murkowski said. Technologies and operation process exist for safe development right now, she said, and the energy is critical to the U.S. Murkowski:

“To forsake Alaska oil and gas will be to forsake America’s energy security in a world that is using more energy, not less. It will leave us an economic and environmental disadvantage. … It will result in fewer jobs created here at home, fewer dollars staying within our economy, less affordable energy for our families and businesses and less influence for our nation on the world stage.”

More than seven in 10 Alaskans supported energy development in the Arctic OCS in a 2014 survey, she said, which is why BOEM’s work on the next offshore leasing program is getting a lot of attention in her state:

“I will tell you the one thing that Alaskans are afraid of, quite honestly. We’ve already seen what Interior has done with the Atlantic OCS removed from consideration in the next five-year plan, despite strong support from residents and elected officials. So we’re worried. We are worried that Interior now plans to hit this delete button on both the Beaufort and Chukchi sales, even though such a decision would have serious consequences for North Slope communities, for the state of Alaska and I believe for the rest of the country.”

Murkowski said Arctic offshore development goes far beyond theory and academic debates in Alaska. It’s economic survival, it’s support for a number of communities that rely on energy revenues to help support a traditional, subsistence way of life:

“Alaskans don’t want to be left out, left hanging – they don’t want the keep-it-in-the-ground mindset to prevail, which would deprive us of the chance to produce our resources at a time when our country needs them. … The Arctic is not an oil painting, it’s not a snow globe that’s to be left up on the shelf and not disturbed. It is a place where people live and work and raise their families – and where we believe strongly that resource development can occur successfully for the benefit of those who live there as well as the benefit of the country.”

Again, the United States needs an offshore leasing program that’s worthy of its energy superpower status. Because of long lead times for offshore exploration and development, the federal leasing program is the blueprint for energy nearly a decade into the future – meaning that if an area like the Arctic is omitted from the next five-year plan, production might not come on line until the early 2030s.

The U.S. can’t afford that. America must not be left behind by other nations when it comes to Arctic energy. Recently, a group of 14 military experts, including former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Cohen, wrote to Interior in support of U.S. Arctic energy development, pointing out that the Arctic’s large reserves will be pursued by other countries to meet their long-term energy needs regardless of whether the U.S. participates. API President and CEO Jack Gerard:

“Maintaining U.S. energy leadership, and its economic and security benefits, requires strategic planning for the long term. Keeping 87 percent of government-controlled offshore acreage off limits to energy development is not sound strategy for a secure energy future; neither is scaling back options in the current draft leasing plan for 2017-2022. Maintaining maximum opportunities in the Arctic and the Gulf of Mexico is essential to future energy security.”


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.