Alaskan officials cite job, economic gains from opening ANWR

Authorizing oil and natural gas leasing on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain would provide thousands of new jobs and major economic benefits relatively quickly, Alaska state officials told the US House Natural Resources Committee. Republican committee members supported the idea while most Democrats opposed it.

“Oil from ANWR could help meet US demand for the next 25 years—or longer,” Gov. Sean Parnell (R) said by video hookup from Alaska. “Responsible development of ANWR would create hundreds of thousands of jobs across our nation, in virtually every state, because a secure supply of petroleum will create demand for goods and services, and lower the cost of doing business.”

The three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, who were at the hearing, agreed that leasing the coastal plain is overdue. “As much as I’m happy to be here to give my thoughts, I’m unhappy that we still have to have this discussion of whether to develop this area after more than 20 years,” said Lisa Murkowski, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking minority member.

The state’s other US senator, Democrat Mark Begich, noted that the coastal plain’s oil resources are close to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System and could help its throughput volumes rebound following years of declines. He also urged that policymakers not overlook resources in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas and in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska which also could be developed.

US Rep. Don Young (R), a member of the committee, noted that it has passed bills to authorize ANWR leasing 11 times which the US Senate has refused to consider. “We could probably develop and deliver this oil in about 3 years,” he said. “Over the years, we have spent about $3.4 trillion buying oil from overseas suppliers. [ANWR’s coastal plain] is not the pristine area some people talk about. It’s been explored before.”

‘Greatest opportunity’

In his opening statement, committee chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said the panel was uniquely positioned to help create more jobs and reduce the federal budget deficit by responsibly allowing development of more domestic energy resources. “Without a doubt, ANWR is the single greatest opportunity for new energy production on federal land,” he maintained. “No single energy project in America can produce more jobs and do more to reduce the debt.”

But the committee’s ranking minority member, Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), said eliminating federal oil and gas tax breaks and offshore royalty exemptions would raise more money than authorizing leasing within a national wildlife refuge.

He said the committee’s minority would exercise its right under House rules to hold another day of hearings to examine federal energy revenue options beyond leasing ANWR. Production there would not begin for at least 10 years and would generate only $3 billion, he argued, while Democrats’ proposals would produce $60 billion more in revenue by making oil companies pay their fair share of taxes.

Two witnesses representing national environmental organizations agreed. But other witnesses from Alaska also expressed support for ANWR leasing. “Responsible development of ANWR's coastal plain is a matter of self-determination for my people,” said Fenton Okomiak Rexford, tribal administrator for the Alaska Native village of Katovik, the only settlement within the refuge. “It will enable the entire North Slope region continued access to essential services taken for granted by people in the Lower 48 states.”

Carey Hall, an employee of Carlile Transportation who drives a truck over ice roads in Alaska, said that environmental lessons were learned as the Prudhoe Bay oil field was developed which could be applied on ANWR’s coastal plain. “Finds such as ANWR must be brought to fruition,” he told the committee. “This one spot in Alaska has more oil potential than any other spot in North America.”

Tim Sharp, secretary-treasurer of the Alaska District Council of Laborers, suggested, “We seem to be caught up in contemplating our navel on process, permitting, and politics at a time when it is obvious to most that we have oil in Alaska, development would generate thousands of needed jobs, and the leverage and impact the foreign producers could have on us would lessen. Instead, inaction trumps common sense and legitimate need.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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