The Concerned: Santa, all we want is a million-barrel miracle for Alaska

Scott Woodham,Alex DeMarban
Aaron Jansen illustration

TO: Santa Claus
SUBJECT: Welcome to the million-barrel team

Dear Santa,

It's us again, The Concerned. Sorry we've been such strangers. We're sorry we don't write you any other time of the year. We imagine your mailbox is kind of empty in June, and that can't feel good. It has been a long time since the last time we wrote, but we're very concerned and need a favor to ask of you. We hope we're not too late with this last-minute appeal.

Please don't forget the state of Alaska this year when you're out there giving gifts to all the children of the world. We know you've been watching us, Santa, and we know Alaska is on your “nice” list. It just has to be.

Since you're a fellow Alaskan -- no matter what the Canadians or Finns say -- surely you must appreciate some of the things the state has done this year. It didn't go along with the federal Medicaid expansion. Obama was set to force health insurance down the throats of 40,000 Alaskans, then buy the state off with billions of federal dollars. But we said “no” to federal overreach and “yes” to liberty. That alone should be enough to keep Alaska from getting coal in its stocking. And not a second too soon, either. Recent news indicates the state needs a big gift from you.

About a year ago, the state set a goal to get 1 million barrels of something, hopefully oil, to flow on average each day down the trans-Alaska pipeline, which carries the state's financial lifeblood.

For decades, the pipeline looked like Alaska's carotid artery, sending cash-rich oil straight to the bold, young state's brain. But lately it acts more like a varicose vein, spreading pain and numbness across the land. Maybe because the symptoms have been particularly strong in Juneau, Alaska's most recent attempt to correct the problem doesn't seem to be working.

And that attempt probably also counts for your “nice” column. In an attempt to reach its goal of increased oil production, Alaska was very generous as a state. Its stimulus tax cut for oil producers will end up being worth hundreds of millions of dollars a year, with the largest, BP, ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil Corp., getting nearly all that money. What's amazing is they didn't even ask for the help. What could be more generous than that? Well, how about ambiguous language that could give them even more?

We also just learned that the state's on the haul road to bankruptcy, and a new era has dawned when it comes to spending habits. Billion-dollar deficits have arrived, apparently out of nowhere, and the Great Alaska Oil Comeback looks less-great each passing day.

That's where you come in, Santa.

What we need from you, big man -- and we don't ask this lightly -- are 1 million barrels of oil per day back in that pipe. Pronto. That would take us back to 1999 levels, a landmark year when the state practically gave away its oil and industry officials promised “No Decline After '99.” That euphonious slogan pleased our ears, but it was way off target.

So here we are now, at about half a million barrels daily. Getting back up to 1 million would certainly be a big jump. But we know it's doable. Alaska has always been a land of dreamers, a haven for gamblers and prospectors wagering everything for one more jackpot.

Gov. Parnell said we'd reach a million barrels once we cut oil-production taxes. The Legislature did that. But now reality is getting in the way, and belief is harder and harder to maintain. You can probably relate. We The Concerned are starting to feel like kids who can't hear your reindeer idling on the roof on Christmas Eve anymore.

You see, the state's Department of Revenue worked hard last year to improve its forecasting for oil production. It says production has historically turned out to be lower than promised or expected. Fields just don't flow as forecast, if they flow at all.

The problem with this more-accurate forecasting are the facts. The state experts looked at all the possible discoveries and decided Alaska will produce just 370,000 barrels a day in 2021, the year Parnell said we could get back up to 1 million barrels. But 370,000 is a long way from 1 million, and it won't do much to refill Alaska's declining savings. Unfortunately for Alaska, the oil producers also predict continued decline. Under both scenarios, it won't be long before Alaska's economy craters.

All we need from you is a tiny Christmas miracle. A pinch of magic dust and a wink. A little Yuletide juju.

We know you can deliver. And we promise we won't fritter the gift away. We might even use the extra income to pad the Permanent Fund, one of the world's greatest wealth equalizers. And we'll find a way to offer more money to our friends in the oil industry, cash they'll sprinkle around the world to pay shareholders dividends and create oil-patch jobs. Maybe even some of them in Alaska.

As you know, Santa, that kind of generosity is just part of Alaska's DNA. We believe it's what makes Alaska especially deserving of your help this year. We hope you agree. Of course, there's one request we're still waiting on: the natural gas pipeline. Some Alaskans are skeptical. After four decades, they say it's just a big steel carrot dangled before voters to keep oil taxes low.

But don't listen to them. We The Concerned are many, and we'll always believe.

Ho ho ho,
The Concerned