'It’s Our Oil!' -- The whole truth please

Reed Christensen
OPINION: Sure it's Alaska's oil, but keeping it in the ground is not like keeping money in the bank. It only like that if the bank were 800 miles away and buried deep underground. State of Alaska photo

I am tired of hearing the half-truth bumper sticker argument “It’s our oil.” I say half-truth because the people who keep chanting this mantra ignore the rest of the truth of the statement.

I was at the debate at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub this past Tuesday when one of the audience questioners made the statement that “It’s our oil,” and if we leave it in the ground today it will be there for our children tomorrow, just like leaving money in the bank.

Again, only partially true. To make the bank analogy the whole truth, more details need to be included.

It would be like having money in a bank that is more than 800 miles away. A bank from which we the owners have no way to withdraw the money ourselves. We do not even have a car to get to the bank, a bank that did not have a road to it until someone else built a road (aka a pipeline). In order for us to get “our money” out of this “bank,” we have to find someone willing to build a road, willing to buy a car and willing to go get “our money.” That person cannot do that for free.

We would need to arrange some kind of partnership for this person to get our money. If we did make a deal and offered someone with these abilities and resources to go get our "money" out of this bank, they would want some certainty as to what this deal would be and certainty that the deal would remain in place after they spent their own money to make it happen.

Another piece of the whole truth is that we would tell them that if they do not find our money, they would get nothing. Even after they built the road, bought a vehicle and went off to go get it. If they do not find our money (“our oil”), they eat these costs with no recourse.

We obviously have gotten into a partnership with the “producers” in order for us to be able to get “our oil.” Without them, we could never have gotten “our oil.”

They built the road. It’s called TAPS. They make “withdrawals” that we cannot make on our own. If we do not allow them to maintain this road and continue to withdraw on our behalf by supporting this partnership, and the road closes (pipeline shuts down), we will have no way to get “our oil” and neither will our children.

So it is not like leaving it safely in a bank to which we could or our children could just drive and start making withdrawals when we need “our oil.” We have to have a partner or we cannot get our money out of this bank.

The “It’s our oil” argument is a selfish half-truth that will lead to no ability to get this oil for us now or for future generations. Why are they not chanting, “It’s our gas!” when discussing a possible gas line for Alaska? For the same reason -- we need a partnership to get these resources (which we do own), to market, where we can gain the maximum benefit for all Alaskans.

Reed Christensen is president and general manager of Dowland-Bach Corp., an Anchorage-based industrial control system and steel component design and fabrication firm.

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, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.