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Study: Open ANWR, create 61,000 jobs

Alex DeMarban
The peaks of the Brooks Range behind the coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. USFWS

An oil and gas trade association says opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development would produce 61,000 new jobs. That could help power Alaska's economy for decades.

The report by the Institute for Energy Research, a policy and analysis non-profit centered on free-market principles, follows an earlier study last year by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that said opening the contentious Arctic territory would yield up to $50 billion in future royalties, according to a KTOO report.

Opening ANWR's coastal plain -- an area amounting to about 9 percent of the 19.3-million acre refuge in the northeastern corner of Alaska -- has been a nonstarter for years, with Congress ceding to environmental opposition and unwilling to support a 1987 decision by the Interior Department that recommended opening the refuge.

The jobs created wouldn't just be in the oil patch, said IER President Tom Kyle. The work there would support other industries, including in manufacturing, health care, real estate and food service.

"When you look at this stuff, you have to look at the big economic picture, not just the jobs created from drilling a well or from putting it in the trans-Alaska Pipeline,” Pyle told KTOO.

The oil and gas industry is already Alaska's sugar daddy, providing nearly 90 percent of state revenue from nonfederal sources. In 2008, about one-third of the 350,000 jobs throughout Alaska were directly tied to the industry or supported by its workers, reported economist Scott Goldsmith.

The federal government estimates the coastal plain, also called the 1002 area, could contain between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil. That puts ANWR on par with early projections for Prudhoe Bay, the nation's largest oil field, which was discovered in the late 1960s west of ANWR.

The ANWR jobs report from IER comes as President Obama proposes a new Interior secretary to replace Ken Salazar for a position that wields enormous influence over Alaska and its vast federal lands and waters. More than 60 percent of Alaska falls under primarily federal jurisdiction, and the potential for easy new oil discoveries on state lands has dwindled since the boom times last century. Whether REI chief executive Sally Jewell, a former oil industry engineer, wins Senate approval, and whether she'll influence the ANWR debate, remains to be seen.

At any rate, Pyle notes in the KTOO report that federal leasing is the best way to slow the ballooning national debt.

“The only bright spot in this economy has been energy production," Pyle said. "And there’s no reason other than political will that we can’t see that benefit in other states like Alaska."

Political will often depends on risks, though. After a summer where Royal Dutch Shell's offshore drilling effort was plagued with problems, the public's perception of risk in drilling off of the Arctic coast has reached a new high. And drilling in ANWR may be safer than offshore exploration, a fact not lost on some open-ANWR supporters from Kaktovik, the only village in the refuge.

However, others in the village and in Arctic Village, a community south of ANWR, oppose drilling in the refuge. They say it would threaten polar bears and the caribou local people eat, while encouraging more-risky offshore exploration

Contact Alex DeMarban at alex(at)alaskadispatch.com