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Oil in TAPS is a boon to Alaska; how about a little help

Tom Barrett
OPINION: Alyeska Pipeline chief Tom Barrett says a no vote on SB 21 repeal recognizes the reality and contribution of oil in Alaska. Pictured: the trans-Alaska oil pipeline near Delta Junction. Loren Holmes photo

At Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., we just successfully moved the 17 billionth barrel of oil through Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. And the TAPS workforce just reached 18 million work-hours without a serious on-the-job injury. These results are due to the skill, teamwork and Alaskan true grit of thousands of exceptional men and women.

But a significant operational challenge these employees confront every day is the pipeline’s low oil flow, or “throughput.”  TAPS line flow is just 1/4 peak volume, and risks associated with this decline, such as wax and ice deposition, are well documented. For a pipeline operator it is a troubling dichotomy; knowing the direct solution for safer and more reliable long-term TAPS operation is more oil in the pipeline, 40 billion barrels of known reserves are on the North Slope and offshore, but the throughput decline is real.

Our company has taken the position that voting no on Ballot Measure 1 to improve and maintain the investment climate for oil production is the best route for bringing more oil to TAPS. Since the passage of Senate Bill 21, the oil tax reform bill, we have seen increased production activity on the Slope: new drilling rigs have mobilized and the Alaska Department of Revenue projects $10 billion of new investment over the next decade. This trend needs to continue. And TAPS is starting to see a reduction in decline rate. Fiscal year 2014 is the first time production numbers have been closer to steady since 2002. We need increased production investment to continue this trend. TAPS infrastructure can move oil for decades to come. But decline challenges us, and every barrel benefits us.

Before you discount what I am saying because I work in the oil industry, please appreciate that like many TAPS employees, I take pride in my work in part because I value being able to work at tasks that have positive outcomes for others besides myself. On TAPS we understand that what we do, and how well we do it, clearly matters not just to our industry, but also to thousands of other people and communities all across Alaska, whether they realize it or not.

More oil through TAPS has implications well beyond more sustainable pipeline operations. The barrels TAPS moves are the foundation for thousands of TAPS jobs, the jobs of most state employees, the jobs of many Alaska federal agency employees and thousands of other Alaska jobs.

Countless Alaska businesses earn our company or personal dollars, or benefit from state and municipal use of money that our industry supplies in taxes, royalties and spending. For every job at a primary oil and gas company like Alyeska Pipeline, 20 more jobs are generated across Alaska.

In Fairbanks in 2013, the oil and gas industry was responsible for 3,500 jobs and $235 million in wages.

In Valdez, the industry provided some 700 jobs and paid out $65 million in wages, while providing $34.5 million in property taxes to the city. That accounted for 90 percent of total city tax revenues.

Alaska communities also benefit enormously from our employees' personal good works and generosity for community civic good. In sum, the quality of life in Alaska is in a multitude of ways, large and small, far better because of the oil TAPS moves.   

TAPS employees are remarkable – some of the best in the business. The work they do every day on the job, at times in very tough conditions, sustains TAPS operations. Their personal energy and commitment improves the quality of life in Alaska. They could use some help from their fellow Alaskans. I will honor that by voting no on Ballot Measure One.

Adm. Tom Barrett is president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.