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Liberty oil project bodes well for Alaska

It's no secret that Alaska is struggling through an economic recession. However, buried under that economic pessimism, several exciting oil and gas development projects exist on the near-term horizon that could boost our fiscal future. Projects like Hilcorp's Liberty Project have the potential to bring substantial investment dollars to the state, and significant amounts of new oil into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

The Liberty field is not a new discovery. Quite the opposite. Discovered decades ago, the field has never been developed ─ but the project is closer than ever. A few years ago, BP, Arctic Slope Regional Corp., and Hilcorp decided to partner in developing Liberty. Today, the project is ramping up.

What would the project entail? The Liberty Project would utilize the same technology that has been used to safely produce millions of barrels of oil over the past 30 years. Liberty Partners propose to build a small, artificial gravel island in the very shallow (19 feet) federal waters of the Beaufort Sea. Significantly, Liberty is close to existing infrastructure. Located just 15 miles east of Prudhoe Bay, the Liberty site is within proximity of one the world's largest spill response repositories, with a large corps of highly trained spill responders.

The nine-acre site would be similar in nature to the four oil- and gas-producing artificial islands currently operating in the area's state waters (Spy Island, Northstar Island, Endicott Island, and Oooguruk Island). All have operated in an environmentally responsible way without a major incident and have contributed millions of barrels of oil to the pipeline.

Because the Liberty field sits in federal waters, it must rightly go through the rigorous federal permitting process, which has historically slowed or even stopped economic development in Alaska. In a big change, leaders within the new federal administration, under the direction of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have announced their intent to ensure a timely and fair process, and the Corps of Engineers is overseeing an extensive public comment period on the draft environmental impact statement that was issued last month.

So what's in it for everyday Alaskans? The Liberty field has the potential to significantly increase the amount of oil going into TAPS. It contains an estimated 150 million barrels of recoverable light oil, with peak production estimated at 60,000 barrels per day. In addition to the royalties and tax payments that amount of oil represents, Liberty's high-quality oil will help keep TAPS operating longer and more efficiently by adding light oil to the increasingly heavier oil now flowing through the pipeline. Alaska needs the oil, and Liberty could significantly boost production when we need it most.

In the end, however, Alaskans are usually focused on good-paying jobs. Development of Liberty will create hundreds of construction jobs over the estimated two-year period to build the gravel island – as well as family-supporting, permanent jobs, and new opportunities for many Alaska businesses.

What's next? In addition to the current EIS under review, approximately 60 federal, state and local permits and authorizations are required before the project can move forward, so federal agencies need to hear from Alaska residents. If Alaskans want to see this project move forward, it is critical to take a few minutes to let the federal government know. Fortunately, the process is easy.

I encourage Alaskans who want to see this project advance to visit http://libertyenergyproject.com/ and click on "public comment."

Kara Moriarty is president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association.

The views expressed here are the writer's 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. 

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