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Fossil fuels have a great future in Alaska, despite the wishes of some

  • Author:
  • Updated: June 25, 2016
  • Published April 17, 2016

Recently, Charles Wohlforth wrote a commentary purporting the "twilight" of fossil fuels. On behalf of my members, I offer an alternate prediction: Fossil fuels aren't going away any time soon. While he does not come out and say it in his recent column, it appears Mr. Wohlforth may have written it from a position of wishful thinking. So, let's add a few more facts to the discussion, because even as renewable energies become popular, they cannot replace the importance of fossil fuels, especially in Alaska.

In his commentary, Wohlforth is misguided about the significant role of fossil fuels in Alaska, the United States and the globe. We believe our modern society is enhanced by smartphones, flat-panel televisions, tablets, and SUVs -- in addition to running water and flushing toilets. For example, for those of you reading this on a smartphone or tablet, it took more than 40 mined minerals, including copper, silver, gold and tin, to make that technology possible. If we can agree on that, then we can also agree on the importance of adequate and reliable energy to power all of these gadgets and necessities.

Why does that matter? Electricity doesn't just come from the outlet on the wall; it comes from generators that rely primarily on fossil fuels. While renewable energies, such as wind and solar, are increasing in use, they have been around for decades and are still much more expensive than fossil fuels, and often unreliable. Renewable energies cannot currently provide "base load" -- which is what we rely on for the ability to turn on the lights whenever we want (or charge our gadgets and toys). Until renewables become widely available, economically feasible and more reliable in Alaska, our utilities will continue to rely on fossil fuels produced by the proud employees at Usibelli Coal Mine, the Cook Inlet platforms and the steadfast employees in the oil and gas industry on the North Slope and across the state.

Even the federal government acknowledges that fossil fuels will dominate the United States' energy use for decades to come. The Energy Information Administration is a nonpartisan research arm of the federal government that provides energy statistics and analyzes all kinds of energy sources, from coal to wind and everything in between. The EIA says the U.S. will use fossil fuels for 80 percent of its energy needs until at least 2040. In other words, there's no need to fear that Alaska's oil, gas, and mineral resources will go "out of style" in a world that runs off solar-powered cars anytime soon.

Wohlforth's claim that Alaska's fossil fuels are "entering their twilight" is just not realistic. With some of the richest deposits of oil, gas, and mineral reserves in the world, our future of developing these natural resources remains bright. According to the 2015 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, Alaska's oil and gas reserves represent a full one-third of the reserves in the U.S., and according to a 1986 report to the Alaska Division of Geological and Geographical surveys, Alaska is home to about 19 percent of the world's known coal reserves. As we can see from government estimates, these resources will eventually be tapped to keep the lights and heat on, and the economy moving, in the United States and around the world. In a true "all of the above" energy strategy, it is imperative that we invest in all energy sources so we have as diverse an energy mix as possible.

As we continue to invest in renewables and alternative sources of energy, we need a bridge to take us to a cleaner tomorrow. For example, renewables' low emissions offset the CO2 from fossil fuels, and the affordability of fossil fuels offsets the high price of renewables. With respect to both fossil fuels and renewables, it is not an either-or option; both should and will be part of our energy future. They're not adversaries -- they're partners working together for a common good. They complement each other's weaknesses so we can meet our nation's growing energy needs in a smart and responsible way. Far from being at "the beginning of its end," as Wohlforth said, we are just beginning to write fossil fuels' story in this state.

Marleanna Hall is executive director of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, a statewide trade association made up of individuals and companies connected to Alaska's oil and gas, mining, forest products, tourism and fisheries industries.

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@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com or click here to submit via any web browser.

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