Policy: Environment & Energy

Don't let politics ruin Alaska's energy future

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Alaska,Energy and Environment,Oil,Natural Gas,ANWR,Arctic,Shell

Even if you have never beheld Mt. McKinley or worked along the expansive Alaskan pipeline, you can appreciate the natural beauty and natural resource benefits of the magnificent state of Alaska.

During the summer of 1977, I worked in Alaska, 160 miles above the Arctic Circle, as a weather observer on the shores of the Chukchi Sea.

Today, I long to see this truly wild and wonderful state continue to prosper as not just a terrific employment or tourist destination, but as an even bigger energy lifeline to the lower 48 states, as well.

But, there is considerable difficulty in tapping Alaska’s frozen frontier for its copious energy reserves. The difficulty is not so much physical as political, and the politics are sometimes laundered through the courts.

Royal Dutch Shell recently was gearing up to continue conducting exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast later this year.

However, the company had to postpone its plans because of a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In a Jan. 30, 2014, conference call with investors, Shell's Chief Executive Officer Ben van Beurden said that the company was “frustrated by the recent decision by the [court] in what is a 6-year-old lawsuit against the government.”

He added, according to the Oil & Gas Journal, that “the obstacles that were introduced by that decision simply make it impossible to justify the commitments of cost, equipment, and people that are needed to drill safely in Alaska this year."

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, said of the court decision that "it is simply unacceptable that judicial overreach is getting in the way of letting Alaskans develop our own natural resources."

More recently, a lawsuit was filed by the state in the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska challenging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Interior because of those agencies' rejection of Alaska's plan for oil and gas exploration in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

On March 14, Alaska's Republican Gov. Sean Parnell said “it is both disappointing and disturbing that the Obama administration, which claims that it is pursuing an ‘all of the above' energy policy, is afraid to let the people of the United States learn more about ANWR's oil and gas resources.

“The modern technology that we are seeking to use [including advanced three-dimensional seismic imaging] is responsibly utilized all across the North Slope with extremely limited environmental impact, and would dramatically improve our understanding of ANWR’s resources.”

Phenomenal progress in natural-resource exploration and extraction and contaminant-control technologies has afforded us a successful balance between energy needs and a clean environment. The U.S. has been the world’s leader in such energy-resource activity, and our supplies are plentiful.

The Department of Energy ranked us as the world's largest petroleum and natural gas producer. The International Energy Agency predicted in November 2012 that the U.S. would be a net oil exporter by 2030.

In addition, with the expectations of a dominant percentage of the world's oil shale energy reserves added to our leadership in coal and advancements in biofuels, nuclear power, and solar and wind energy, we could readily become a major supplier of fuel to the rest of the world, including the EU in its time of strategic need.

The U.S. has the rich resources and the sophisticated and ethical ability to do right by the planet and its people. Does it have the political will? What happens in the near future in Alaska could be the bellwether.

Anthony J. Sadar is a certified consulting meteorologist and author of "In Global Warming We Trust: A Heretic's Guide to Climate Change," from Telescope Books.

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