How to get the Lower 48 to care about Alaska

Last year, Washington Post humorously proffered an unusual, but intriguing argument as to how to solve our nation’s debt problems: sell Alaska. The author, Steven Mufson, reasoned that the federal government could sell the state, 69 percent of which is federal land, for a whopping $2.5 trillion. Mufson based his estimation on the state’s abundant energy and mineral reserves.

Selling Alaska today may sound as bizarre as buying Alaska did back in 1867. But, Mufson has a point.

Alaska’s natural resources can play a significant role in reducing our nation’s debt, growing the economy, and, most importantly, ensuring safe, affordable energy for U.S. consumers.

Onshore, the federal government conservatively estimates reserves of 3.7 billion barrels of oil and 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Offshore, the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf holds an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — one of the world’s largest untapped reserves.

To illustrate the magnitude of these resources, consider this. Thirty billion barrels of Alaskan oil could fuel every domestic flight for over 120 years. Similarly, 141 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could heat every American house for 34 years.

Simply put, American consumers need Alaska.

As the Alaskan Resource Development Council meets in Anchorage, many are asking: “Why won’t the federal government allow Alaskans to tap these prodigious resources and keep Alaska’s economy growing?”

In just the past few years, the Obama Administration has moved forward on new plans and regulations that could limit or prevent energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, and the Chukchi and Beaufort seas. If it’s not additional red-tape cutting off access, opposition groups increasingly utilize litigation to seek to stall or derail development plans.

Why these resources are being kept off-line is certainly perplexing. Nearly every Alaskan understands how significantly oil and natural gas development benefits the state’s economy. Revenues from production have kept the state’s budget in the black for decades and the industry generates or supports nearly one-third of Alaskan jobs.

While most Alaskans have been up-in-arms about the Alaskan energy shutout, the rest of the United States has remained either silent or unaware. It’s not a stretch to think that Lower 48 disinterest could be the reason, or even a catalyst, for these restrictive federal policies.

That’s why I — a Texan — ventured north to Anchorage to pose this to RDC: “How can everyday American consumers champion Alaskan energy and ensure it continues to play a key role in our collective energy future?”

For starters, we must educate Lower 48 consumers on the benefits of Alaskan energy. By permitting onshore and offshore oil and natural gas exploration now, by 2030 new Alaskan production could reach 1.6 million barrels of energy equivalent per day.

Alaskan offshore development alone could generate $193 billion in new revenue and create 55,000 jobs nationally. Additionally, new sources of oil will prevent the premature closure of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, a critical infrastructure that has delivered over 16 billion barrels of oil to U.S. consumers since 1977.

Second, we must motivate consumers to advocate for a sound, “all-of-the-above” energy policy that includes Alaska. Any reasonable consumer armed with the facts will appreciate the need to keep Alaska open for development. The United States will continue to consume about 19 million barrels of oil per day — even while making laudable strides to develop alternative fuels and utilize energy more efficiently.

Finally, consumers must lead the conversation with policy-makers on the importance of Alaska to our energy future. Alaskans need an ally in this fight. That’s why Consumer Energy Alliance, in conjunction with its Alaska chapter and its nationwide network of consumer-advocates, has continually championed Alaskan energy, emphasizing the role these resources play in providing affordable energy to consumers.

Simply selling Alaska may sound laughable, but it’s reasoning is fair. However, we don’t need to sell Alaska to reap these economic benefits; we just need the federal government to permit safe development. And we need American consumers to echo this rallying call.

Holt is the president of Consumer Energy Alliance and has more than 25 years of experience working for state and federal agencies and Congress, and directing outreach and advocacy efforts. He was the keynote speaker at the annual Resource Development Council meeting on June 26 in Anchorage.

06/27/2013 - 7:29am