Here in the Frozen North, fear is our closest friend. It powers state government and the economy. It sends each of us -- every man, woman and child -- sizable checks every year. It pays for nearly everything.
It drives what is most important to us -- oil prices. Our financial security, our future, our kids' futures in a very real sense, depend on the jitters of others. The old supply-demand paradigm croaked long ago. These days it is all guesswork about what will happen because of this or, God forbid, because of that -- with a gasping dollar tossed in for good measure. Prices worldwide hinge on estimates of how much oil will be available and when or where which wackdoodle will do what. The market is as volatile, as flaky, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Our last, best hope while the Legislature diddles with fixing Alaska's Clear and Equitable Share oil tax, and production continues to sag, is high oil prices. Alaska's government would collapse like a souffle if prices -- Alaska North Slope crude was $124 a barrel last week -- plummeted to, say, $70 a barrel. We would, for all practical purposes, be broke. In the blink of an eye, the state would zip through its stash of billions in oil tax cash "surpluses" stolen from the oil companies. Government would spend every cent it had before it began to cut. Guess who would get the tab when the cupboard -- surprise! -- was found to be bare, the trans-Alaska oil pipeline throughput a mere dribble and not enough oil tax money left to buy a cheeseburger? The economy would spiral downward, accompanied by a loud whooshing sound. The only thing harder to get than a job would be a U-Haul trailer.
We cannot, must not, allow that, no matter that half of us would love to see the other half chased out of the state to make elbow room at the best fishing spots. If there is no urgency to fix ACES, we have to do something else. We must be badger-aggressive in working to keep oil prices high. If we are not going to demand ACES be fixed, and soon, we need to be proactive, fomenting and spreading rumors as a matter of state policy. Yes, yes, of course, it's wrong. So what? It's not as if government never lies. And, sure, high oil prices hurt us all at the service station, but low oil prices hurt us everywhere else.
There is a wealth of topics to draw from in creating constant near-panic. Iran's nukes. Terrorists. Threats to block the Strait of Hormuz. Russia's craziness. China's craziness. Saudi craziness. An Israeli invasion. Giant crocodiles threatening oil rigs in Nigeria. Rabid pigs closing vast tracts to drilling someplace we never heard of. Canada shutting off U.S. oil exports because of President Barack Obama's Keystone XL pipeline fiasco. Mexico's cartels cutting off oil just for fun. The list is endless, limited only by our fertile imaginations.
Alaska's challenge -- sans an ACES fix -- is to organize the rapid dissemination of quasi-information aimed at retaining high oil prices in a way that leaves no trail back to us before we can get the next batch of rumors afloat. Information must be routed quickly and directly to what passes for the news media nowadays and to oil speculators to push prices up. We need a worldwide buzz. As individuals we can do our part -- in conversations with folks Outside and using the Internet and all its social networking tools. We can email, Tweet, Facebook, YouTube or blog, but to keep oil prices artificially high we need a more organized, centralized, widespread approach.
It requires -- dare I say it? -- government expertise. Who knows better how to fib? Consider this: We create a secret agency -- and with this state's penchant for hiding information, how hard could that be? -- dubbed the Liasion, Intelligence and Economics (LIE) division. It would work directly for the governor, with offices in oil markets around the world. Its mission would be to insinuate its people among speculators and in various markets and the media to manufacture, collect and disseminate rumors as a means of spreading fear to keep prices up.
Or, we could fix ACES, increase production and get richer. Too easy, I suppose.
Oh, and there really is a report about oil-eating microbes being found in the Middle East, threatening their reserves.
I'm just sayin'.
Paul Jenkins is editor of the AnchorageDaily Planet.com.