OPINION: Some news to be thankful for
After what has felt more like a terrifying plunge with no ups and all downs, this year has been more like a bungee jump than a roller coaster.
But two recent developments have snapped us back from impact in the nick of time and given reason for thanks as we approach the holiday season.
For one, as President Donald Trump repeatedly promised in the face of nearly unanimous ridicule and skepticism before the election, a COVID-19 vaccine was indeed just weeks away and is set to be deployed before the end of the year including here in Alaska.
Encouraging clinical test results and a ready deployment plan are tremendous accomplishments by the public-private partnership under Operation Warp Speed that have buoyed investors and, critically for Alaska, oil prices.
The price per barrel has increased by about $4 since Pfizer announced a preliminary 90 percent effective rate for its phase three clinical trial, and year-to-date North Slope crude is about $5 better than the budget forecast. This is not nearly enough to erase the projected budget deficit but is better than a kick in the shins and a long way from the prices that bizarrely and briefly went negative back in April.
The Dow Jones average also crossed the 30,000-point mark on Nov. 24, which is good news for the Permanent Fund that is now the largest source of income for Alaska and as of Nov. 20 stood at nearly $70 billion in value.
The record total for the Dow and the Permanent Fund came after ConocoPhillips Alaska President Joe Marushack announced at the Nov. 18 Resource Development Council for Alaska conference that the company is resuming drilling on the North Slope after suspending most non-production activity and briefly curtailing output by some 100,000 barrels per day this past spring.
This is outstanding news for jobs — the sector has lost some 3,000 since the COVID-19 induced price crash — and future throughput in the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.
With approval for its massive Willow project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in hand (followed like clockwork by eco-extremists filing a lawsuit against it), ConocoPhillips is getting back to work and will finally get to deploy the biggest horizontal drilling rig in North America dubbed “The Beast.”
Prices weren’t the only factor in the decision to restart its North Slope programs, of course. Crucial was the overwhelming defeat of the deceptively-titled “Fair Share Act” on Nov. 3 by Alaska voters who refused to follow millionaire lawyer and initiative funder Robin Brena off the economic cliff.
The dark winter still lies ahead, but progress toward a vaccine and more production on the North Slope has relegated that fact to a mere function of the calendar and no longer a metaphor for where Alaska is going.
For that we have reason for thanks.
Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected].