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Oil company contributions keep engineering and other programs afloat

Herb Schroeder
OPINION: Herb Schroeder, founder of the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program, argues that oil company contributions and all the employment and opportunity the industry provides merit a No vote on Ballot Measure One.

In the past few months, different voices from the University of Alaska system have weighed in on an important election issue facing Alaskans this August. Few voices from the nonprofit community have weighed in on Ballot Measure 1. I want to explain the importance of the oil and gas industry’s philanthropic giving to the future of Alaska.

We started the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program at the University of Alaska Anchorage in 1995 with a single student. Students were arriving at our University chronically underprepared socially and academically for bachelor's degree programs in science and engineering. This led to a lack of Alaska Natives in the science and engineering professions - professions that make decisions about the resources on the lands cared for by Natives for 10,000 years. 

Today there are more than 1,500 ANSEP students beginning in sixth grade and extending through high school, the undergraduate years, and on into graduate school. Alaska Native professionals from ANSEP are working in the oil and gas industry, with state and federal agencies, and within the Alaska Native regional corporations. A transformation is underway that is eliminating the systematic subjugation that has denied Alaska Natives access to educational opportunities and the attendant economic benefits. 

The simple fact is that our oil and gas industry has worked to crush the barriers that have excluded Alaska Natives from the science and engineering professions. They were our first backers when we were starting and continue to provide cash, jobs, and advocacy to support ANSEP students. In the last 12 months the industry has provided in excess of $1 million  in financial support with Alyeska Pipeline Co., ExxonMobil, and Udelhoven Oilfield System Services each contributing $200,000. Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips, are also major supporters with cash contributions and internships totaling nearly $300,000 in the past year. Together, they have provided millions of dollars for the ANSEP building on our campus and millions more for an ANSEP-endowed chair. The oil and gas industry is the largest local employer for science and engineering students. According to a recent report by the McDowell group, the oil and gas industry hires 88 percent of its direct employees in Alaska. All this is making a profound and positive impact on the lives of the students, their families, their communities, and our state that will endure for generations.

When the Legislature acted last year to reform Alaska’s oil tax law, it was after a steady decline in oil production. As pointed out in the McDowell report, Alaska is the only oil-producing state where production has declined. Yet, the U.S. Energy Information Administration lists Alaska as among the states with the highest proven reserves. So the new oil tax structure is sought to incentivize new oil production. There are already signs that the new tax structure is working to achieve that goal.

Our collective future is at stake this August. A yes vote on Ballot Measure 1 would repeal SB 21, a tax structure that encourages production; a no vote encourages production. More production means more jobs, a healthy economy, and a bright future for all of us and our children. Nonprofit organizations in the state thrive when the oil industry thrives; giving grows as the industry grows. 

So when you go to the polls on Aug. 19, please think of the impact your vote on Ballot Measure 1 will have. This vote is about the future of our state and the health of our communities and community organizations. That is why I am voting no.

Dr. Herb Ilisaurri Schroeder is the founder and vice provost of the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program and Professor of Engineering at UAA.

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.