OPINION: Alaska is more than a position on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

After reading an informed article about the Legislature boosting Gov. Dunleavy’s budget for anti-Biden lawsuits, I realized it’s easy to think that the only thing that matters to Alaskans is oil and gas development, specifically within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Here’s a good summary line: “The Biden administration has just been extremely hostile to the state of Alaska. It seems to me to be an attack on Alaskans by the federal government.” This is Rep. Mike Prax (R-North Pole) justifying his vote to add an additional $2 million expenditure to the lawsuit fund.

In his remarks before the Alaska Legislature, Sen. Dan Sullivan criticized the Biden administration’s restrictions in the Arctic Refuge, claiming that President Biden was “holding back Alaska’s economic production.”

As a long-time Alaskan, none of this oil-and-gas-driven diatribe is new. But what is new is the absence of some significant current events, the essential backdrop, in which these oil and gas issues must be examined against. Setting the Ukraine war aside, the first missing event I want to highlight is that when the Arctic Refuge lease sale was conducted under the Trump administration, no major oil company showed up – only AIDEA and two small companies. It’s worth noting that AIDEA, the largest bidder, has zero experience in developing oil and gas. Perhaps this is a testament to the financial challenges of Arctic development and, as such, should not be overlooked.

Nor should it be overlooked that the oil and gas industry itself is blocking oil and gas development on the North Slope. The Anchorage Daily News reported in March that the high price ConocoPhillips is asking for granting road access to the Pikka field (one of the biggest new oil developments) is forcing a financial retreat on Phase One of the project.

Somehow, it’s better to sue the Biden administration for not acting fast enough on a “no-show” lease sale than acknowledging that the oil and gas industry itself is standing in the way of a more immediate project; a project that could ultimately boost the pipeline flow by 25%. Ah, details that we don’t want to be bothered with.

When it comes to generating economic growth, let’s not forget that it is President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill that is pumping $3.5 billion into Alaska’s ports, roads and broadband and another billion into rescuing the Alaska Marine Highway. This is a huge boost to Alaska’s economy and will create far more immediate jobs for Alaskans than a speculative oil and gas project 10 years out. Somewhere in the equation of supporting Alaska, shouldn’t these job-creating billions show up on the economic ledger book? What about President Biden coming to the rescue of the Alaska cruise ship industry and giving a much-needed Alaska-specific waiver to the Passenger Vessel Service Act? Shouldn’t helping out one of Alaska’s largest industries count as a pro-Alaska action?

But what irks me most about this sustained Republican effort to paint the Biden administration as anti-Alaska is the narrow focus on oil and gas with the Arctic Refuge issue as the litmus test, regardless of current circumstances. Their obsession with oil and gas ignores the economic importance of the seafood industry, tourism, the health sector, government, construction and telecommunications. Just search for “jobs by sector Alaska” and then click on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest report, May 2021, breaks down the number of jobs in Alaska by 22 sectors.


Assuming all jobs listed under construction and extraction opportunities – 18,280 – are related to oil and gas (a generous assumption), there are still six sectors with a higher number of jobs. Looking at the number of jobs created, the office and administrative support sector is number one in Alaska with 38,800 employed positions. Health care and related support industries is the second-highest sector with 32,290 positions. Even the education sector employs more people than the construction and extraction sector. Clearly, Alaska’s economy is more than a one industry economy.

Obviously, with most Alaskans’ jobs in other sectors, Alaskans care about other resource issues than just oil and gas. Yet, why is it that the Arctic Refuge appears as the sole resource development issue to consider when determining whether President Biden is pro or anti-Alaska? Why is it that the Pebble Mine, the Tongass, climate change and sustainable fisheries, where a clear majority of Alaskans support actions by the Biden administration, don’t matter?

When it comes to management of our rich natural resources, why should doing good for Alaska be solely defined by oil and gas, by one’s position on the Arctic Refuge? We have world-class renewable energy; we have a tourism industry aiming for a post-pandemic resurgence; we have record runs of Bristol Bay sockeye; we have the emergence of a health care industry, we have coastal fisheries from Ketchikan to Kotzebue, we have successful Native Corporations, we even have the fourth-busiest (2020) air cargo port in the world. The Alaska I know and love is more than one sector or one issue. The economic yardstick for being for Alaska’s success is so much more than just opening the Arctic Refuge. We need to step back and view Alaska in it’s all in its economic abilities. When the window widens beyond this narrow focus, the Biden Administration is not anti-Alaska. Please join me in seeing the larger picture of what it means to be pro-Alaska. Then speak up too.

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has over 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.

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Kate Troll

Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has over 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She's been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.