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Alaska key to U.S. energy security

  • Author: Mike Sommers
    | Opinion
  • Updated: June 6
  • Published June 6

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, seen near Copper Center on Tuesday, September 9, 2014. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Visiting the North Slope recently, it was easy to see what reporters are getting at with headlines like “Alaskan oil returns with a vengeance.” With discoveries like Willow, Pikka and Liberty, the North Slope is poised to re-emerge as a “super basin.”

It’s all good news for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, or TAPS — backbone of Alaska energy and critical pillar of U.S. energy security. TAPS throughput is ticking up, and new finds in National Petroleum Reserve Alaska, or NPR-A, could singlehandedly increase its volume by 18%.

TAPS started operating in 1977 — right in between two major energy crises: the OPEC oil embargo in 1973, and the 1979 oil shock following the Iranian Revolution. When the U.S. energy outlook seemed pretty grim — with production declining in the Lower 48 at the same time OPEC had us over the barrel — TAPS was a lifeline, transporting more than 17 billion barrels over the decades.

TAPS illustrates just how important Alaska energy is — not just to the state’s economy, but to U.S. energy security.

The United States leads the world in natural gas and oil production. But that doesn’t mean we can get complacent. Global consumption has reached 100 million barrels per day — more than double what it was 50 years ago.

And demand is expected to keep growing, as opportunities expand for millions living in poverty around the globe. Even under optimistic scenarios for renewable energy, U.S. and international projections agree that three-fourths of demand will be supplied by fossil fuels, with more than half coming from natural gas and oil, for decades to come.

Fortunately, from the Permian Basin to the Prudhoe Bay, we have not just the resources but an industry with the technology and skill to develop them safely.

The biggest hurdle to maintaining U.S. energy leadership? Policy.

Alaska knows that better than anyone. Here, home to some of the most prolific oil and natural gas reserves in the United States, the federal government controls 61 percent of the land.

Even areas specifically designated for energy development are off limits. Whether it’s NPR-A or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), one Congress will designate land eligible for exploration, only to see the progress reversed by the next Congress or White House.

But there’s reason for optimism. Two years ago, the Trump administration signed an order authorizing resource assessments in the ANWR 1002 area and advancing opportunities in NPR-A.

With competitors like Russia and Norway actively exploring in the Arctic region, we have all the more reason to get off the sidelines.

Military leaders are clear that maintaining influence in the Arctic is critically important to our national security. Former Defense Secretary William Cohen led 14 other military experts in urging the Obama administration to include Arctic waters in the federal leasing program. Ignoring the Arctic, they stated, would “signal retreat, needlessly reducing U.S. flexibility for promoting our national interests … in this sensitive and increasingly strategic region.”

On so many levels, U.S. energy security, and our national security, is tied to keeping Alaska energy strong.

Local policy matters, too. Alaska’s current tax structure is working — with production up since state petroleum tax rates were cut in 2013. And predictable tax policy is key to keeping Alaska competitive — and to driving economic benefits.

As Alaskans well know, energy security also means economic security. Building TAPS employed 28,000 workers in 1975 alone. And generations of Alaskans have made their livings keeping it flowing since then. Each resource basin in Alaska represents tens of thousands of potential jobs — and not just in the energy industry.

Nationwide, the natural gas and oil industry supports 10.3 million U.S. jobs across the economy — 2.7 additional jobs for each direct industry job. Affordable energy has spurred a manufacturing resurgence, and it’s generating construction jobs.

And we’re achieving all this economic growth while also driving environmental progress.

The United States leads the world in reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, since 2000. U.S. carbon emissions have plunged to their lowest level in a generation, primarily due to increased use of natural gas in electricity. We’re producing more natural gas more safely, and more cleanly, than ever while also investing in technologies to make fuels cleaner. And we’ve harnessed technology to reduce our surface footprint by up to 90 percent, and drive reductions in ozone and methane.

The long-held assumption that we can’t increase energy production, grow the economy and decrease emissions — all at the same time — no longer applies.

It doesn’t apply in Alaska either, where the energy legacy is one of both prolific production and the highest standards of environmental stewardship.

Alaska energy doesn’t need a comeback. To make Alaska and U.S. energy security stronger than ever, it just needs to be unleashed.

Mike Sommers is the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

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