During my time serving in the United States Senate, I witnessed my fair share of partisan rhetoric—especially when it came to Alaska’s energy potential. While politicians like to use the future of the Arctic as a political hot potato, the truth is that the Arctic can and should be a key component of America’s comprehensive energy plan.
Developing our Arctic resources means we can continue to ensure the Arctic is well managed by our neighbors while replacing the oil we are buying from foreign and often hostile countries. It also means creating jobs here at home and controlling energy costs for American families. Production in the U.S. means more royalties and revenue coming to federal, state and local governments rather than to countries whose policies we may or may not support. The bottom line is that there is much to gain from responsible development here at home.
As designated by law, every five years, the Department of the Interior assesses which parcels of federal land and waters are eligible for oil and gas lease sales. What has become clear to me, and to many of us across Alaska, is that if Alaska’s offshore is not included in the next lease sale, due to be announced any day now, one of America’s last great energy opportunities may never be developed.
The Obama Administration has already demonstrated they understand the value of harnessing America’s energy potential. After 25 years of stalled progress under several administrations, the Obama Administration permitted oil and gas exploration in waters off Alaska’s North Slope and allowed work to get underway in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), which is expected to produce 18 million barrels of oil per year. Just last week, Amy Pope, the Vice Chair of the White House Arctic Executive Steering Committee and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor reiterated that the Arctic will “likely continue to provide valuable supplies to meet U.S. energy needs into the future.” As we approach the final months of this Administration, I hope we will see continued support for maintaining access to America’s diverse energy sources.
Promising discoveries such as the recent Smith Bay find near NPR-A may harness as much as 10 billion barrels of oil. These discoveries, coupled with the great potential in Alaska’s federal waters, can keep the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) supplying west coast states with critically needed fuel. Of course, there will be no discoveries to be had if federal access is not granted; making inclusion of Arctic waters a key aspect of America’s future energy supply.
In many ways, the energy challenges that Alaskans face are no different from those across the country. The Lower 48 has benefited from the shale revolution that has ushered in record-breaking levels of production and dramatically lower energy and living costs. But this production is projected to decline as soon as the 2030s, and unless we develop other sources of energy, we will continue our dependence on oil from foreign and potentially unfriendly countries. The Arctic alone holds at least 15 years of U.S. net oil imports, and these domestic supplies can allow a comfortable transition to an inevitable renewable energy future.
Alaskans have always had a stake in our natural resource development and a keen understanding of the critical role it plays in our state’s overall economy. But we also understand how important Alaska is to the energy and national security of our country. And we understand we have a responsibility to safely and responsibly develop our resources, which we have proven is possible in Alaska time and time again. Having a ready supply of oil and gas protects America’s role as a leader across the world and protects jobs here at home.
As Americans, we have never been afraid to take on tough challenges and create great opportunities. That is why I believe we must focus on harnessing Alaska’s potential for innovative energy development and create a long-term, sustainable energy plan that works for our country. I hope the Administration won’t miss this critical opportunity.
Former Sen. Mark Begich represented Alaska in the Senate from 2009-2015. He is now the President and CEO of Northern Compass Group located in Anchorage, Alaska. He also serves as a Strategic Advisor to Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck.