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Murkowski: The bait-and-switch on Alaska energy

Lisa Murkowski

An alliance of environmental activists and Democratic politicians has spent decades blocking the efforts of Alaskans to access the rich energy resources of our state.

When Alaskans wanted to open the 1002 area of ANWR to exploration and production, opponents of progress stymied our efforts with fear-mongering and obstructionism. In so doing, they frequently pointed to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska in the northwest corner of the state as a preferable location for drilling. This, they argued, would protect the coastal plain of ANWR.

But now that the focus has actually swung to the NPR-A, this same obstructionist alliance is supporting a plan to greatly restrict oil and gas exploration in the petroleum reserve.

This is a classic bait-and-switch. If opponents simply don’t want Alaska to produce any energy, they should be honest enough to say so.

A land management plan billed by the Interior Department as “opening” half of NPR-A would actually close oil and gas activity in half the Reserve. It would also make it very difficult to construct the pipelines and other infrastructure necessary to get oil from the Chukchi and Beaufort seas to the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.

The environmental community is even trying to rename the petroleum reserve as the “Western Arctic Reserve.” The name itself declares their intention to wage war against responsible resource development in Alaska.

If there is one thing that should offend us all, it is America’s dependence on the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). We import 4.5 million barrels of oil from OPEC each and every day. Our own continent, however, has been blessed with vast oil and natural gas resources that if responsibly developed could free ourselves from relying on imports from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and other familiar hotspots.

According to the Energy Information Agency, the United States has 220 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil and condensates. Other estimates range far higher. The Mexican government estimates its own technically recoverable resources to be 31 billion barrels, while Canada boasts some 175 billion barrels in proven reserves alone.

Alaska will necessarily play a large role in this energy revolution. NPR-A holds nearly 900 million barrels of oil, along with over 50 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The Chukchi and Beaufort seas may hold an additional 23 billion barrels of oil. Unfortunately, much of the state’s resource bounty is locked up by its federal overseers.

The benefits of permitting Alaska to access its potential should be obvious. North Dakota, for instance, boasts an unemployment rate of just 3 percent. Wyoming’s is just 5.7 percent. The budget situations in these states, which have benefited from the energy boom, is good. North Dakota actually has a $1 billion surplus.

Oil and gas production creates thousands of jobs and fuels economic growth. Progress in the energy sector spills over into other areas of the economy as well. This is because equipment must be purchased, shipments must be transported, and workers must be fed. The result is a powerful multiplier effect. The World Economic Forum estimates up to four additional jobs can be created for every position in the deepwater or unconventional oil sectors.

Oil and gas production also provides a revenue stream for both state and federal treasuries that can be used to help address budget deficits.

The failure of the federal government to pursue a truly “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy, however, is hindering the nation’s ability to climb out of this recession. Over the last four years, while permitting for oil and gas has been dramatically restricted, the national debt has risen by more than $5.4 trillion, and high unemployment rates persist around the country.

In the meantime, our reliance on imports persists. There is nothing noble about forcing oil production overseas where the environmental standards are weaker while blocking it here at home.

Self-sufficiency is an integral part of the American pioneering spirit. It is certainly central to the Alaskan character. A durable, realistic form of energy independence is within our grasp if only we approach it with common sense.

But too often decisions by the current administration, like the proposed management plan for the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, hobble American energy production and stop progress.

Alaskans don’t need the federal government to protect them from themselves. We need reasonable access to the resources of our state to support a vibrant and growing economy that can support future generations.

The bait-and-switch is wrong for Alaska and wrong for America.

Senator Lisa Murkowski joined the U.S. Senate in 2002. Born in Ketchikan and raised in Wrangell, Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage, she is the first Alaskan-born senator to serve the state.

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