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Lisa Murkowski: What Keystone XL could mean for Alaska

  • Author: Sen. Murkowski
  • Updated: June 29, 2016
  • Published January 21, 2015

I understand that some Alaskans are wondering how the Keystone XL pipeline is relevant to Alaska. It's a fair question that I believe deserves an answer.

Alaska has a unique history with large-scale infrastructure projects, including energy projects of great magnitude. Prudhoe Bay is a world-class oil field and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System is a true modern marvel.

But Alaskans are also a little nervous right now. Even The New York Times has described a sense of "economic anxiety" that hangs over our state. The reason why is that our oil production -- which was once above 2 million barrels a day -- has dropped precipitously over the past few decades.

We are now in that situation despite the estimated presence of nearly 40 billion barrels of oil in our federal areas -- offshore, the coastal plain of ANWR, NPR-A. We are not about to run out of oil in Alaska. Our problem is that we are simply not allowed to access any of it.

Keystone XL will not carry any Alaskan crude. We have a pipeline for that already built, and just waiting to be refilled. Our need is not infrastructure, but permission from the federal government to access our lands and waters.

My first message to Alaskans is a simple one: There is plenty of demand within just the United States for all of the oil that Canada can produce, and all of the oil that Alaska can produce, all at the same time.

The world view that supports construction of Keystone XL is the same one that leads to new production in Alaska: the recognition that affordable energy is good, the understanding that low prices result when world markets are well-supplied, and the desire to achieve North American energy independence.

Approving the Keystone XL pipeline will not eat into the markets for Alaska's oil. In fact, it will likely help us to preserve them.

Right now, our North Slope crude is predominantly shipped to the West Coast, where it is refined into gasoline and other petroleum products for use by our fellow Americans in the Lower 48.

But our crude is now finding itself in competition with crude from shale plays such as the Bakken. Without pipelines like Keystone XL, that oil is finding a home wherever it can, and in many cases that is on the West Coast via rail.

We have repeatedly heard Keystone XL described -- wrongly -- as a foreign project that will carry Canadian oil to the Gulf Coast. It will also carry approximately 100,000 barrels of Bakken crude from North Dakota and Montana down through the mid-continent -- instead of to the West Coast, which is not its natural home.

I also believe Keystone XL is a test for the United States -- a test of whether we, as a nation, can still review, license, permit, and build large-scale energy infrastructure.

We need more of that in Alaska and honestly, if we can't even do it in the Lower 48, then opponents of energy production and energy infrastructure will be further emboldened in Alaska.

We're working on the Keystone XL pipeline right now. But it is just the first step of many that we can take to improve our energy policies. I will be continuing my conversations with members to explain how Alaska has so much to offer the country -- if only the federal government would give it the chance.

Our pipeline is already built. It has operated successfully, safely and efficiently, for decades. It remains surrounded by billions of barrels of untapped oil that can be brought to market -- creating jobs, generating revenues, keeping prices as low as possible, and increasing our security all at the same time.

This is a conversation that will continue until the conditions of Alaska's statehood are finally recognized, and we are allowed to produce our resources. Keystone XL is not bad for Alaska; it will help us. But I am also well aware that it is hardly the only help we need right now.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski is Alaska's senior senator and chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

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.

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