Editor's note: The following commentary was first published by POLITICO. It is republished here with permission.
North Dakota has now overtaken Alaska in oil production, again demonstrating shale oil’s ascendance — and importance — in the nation’s oil supply. I lost a bet — and owe my North Dakota counterpart a salmon dinner.
But the offshore Arctic oil potential of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, which Alaskans hope to explore this summer, could eventually put us back on top — and earn me a steak dinner. It’s not about me, though. America needs to say “yes” to new Arctic oil.
In election-year debates, facts and sound science are often left behind. This is what’s now happening in conversations about offshore resource development in northern Alaska.
Some would like us to believe it’s too risky to safely explore the 21 billion barrels of potential oil in these seas. They argue we should forget about resources that are nearly a quarter of our known, technically recoverable, outer continental shelf resources. Instead, they argue, we should remain dependent on imported oil.
But people who pay attention to science and experience are confident of this: The Beaufort and Chukchi seas can be safely explored. Every Arctic Ocean coastal state, six including Iceland, has come to the same conclusion.
The oil industry has already invested hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency planning. Myriad measures recommended by the National Oil Spill Commission are being put in place, including state-of-the-art capping stacks, 24-hour icebreaker support and a recessed wellhead resilient to cold water challenges.
In addition to these on-site measures, redundant operations and around-the-clock support from the private sector and federal government agencies will be available for any emergency situation. Arctic nations are also negotiating a mutual aid pact.
Alaska, too, has been hard at work making safety preparations. We’re working closely with the Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers on infrastructure issues. We’re investing in research and science, working specifically with the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. We’re also seeking to form international agreements on preparation and response through the Arctic Council.
Detractors ignore these plans. They disregard objective scientific analysis and improved technological capabilities. They accentuate remote risk. They deny the evidence of Alaska’s knowledge and skill in resource development — achievements that can lead to great reward for the rest of the nation.
While some are busy fear-mongering, others are taking note of the extensive safety preparation that has gone into plans for offshore development.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp has stated his belief that both the industry and the Coast Guard are ready for the task. “[Shell] truly did their homework, I believe,” Papp said, “and I think they are going to be well prepared.”
Papp, in his 2012 State of the Coast Guard address, noted the arsenal of aircraft, marine vessels and highly proficient crew that will be at the ready in the Arctic.
In addition, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has “found no evidence that the proposed action would significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” Coastal communities will be protected, while the whole nation benefits.
Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell last year joined a coalition of coastal state governors seeking to work more effectively with the federal government on offshore exploration and resource development. An alliance of public and private officials, representing a majority of Alaska’s 340,000 workers, has urged President Barack Obama to move ahead with outer continental shelf development.
The issue is vital for Alaska and the United States. If Alaskan resources aren’t developed, the trans-Alaska pipeline system, one of our nation’s most important energy infrastructure assets, may be forced to close because of cold-weather challenges brought by low throughput. The pipeline is now running at less than one-third capacity.
The stakes couldn’t be higher for our economy, our national security and our citizens. The good news is that by harnessing American ingenuity and technical skill, and by relying on solid science and experience, we can overcome challenges and reap a promising future. Now we just need federal leadership to act — for America’s economy, our energy and our national security.
Alaska could return to being the nation’s top oil producer. While I’ll fill my North Dakotan colleague’s dinner plate with salmon this time, let’s make sure we refill the Alaska pipeline for America’s future.
Mead Treadwell currently serves as Alaska's lieutenant governor. In addition to holding a wide variety of leadership positions in civic, international, professional and policy organizations, he was appointed to the United States Arctic Research Commission by President George W. Bush in 2001 and was designated its chairperson in 2006. He is recognized as one of the world's experts in Arctic policy.
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.