Empire editorial: New agency could be good news for Alaska

Oil industry leaders who put time and money into development are fed up with delays in getting permits to operate in Alaska. The loss of the state’s Coastal Management Program staff to aid in streamlining permit applications didn’t help. This week the Obama Administration made a single positive step toward moving things forward and giving businesses who seek to develop Alaska’s abundant energy sources a fair chance.

President Barack Obama signed an executive order that formed an “interagency working group” charged with coordinating energy development in Alaska.

While this sounds suspiciously like a committee — a body that usually designs a horse that looks like a camel — we’re hopeful the administration is finally serious about tapping U.S. oil and gas supplies to give our nation a bit more energy independence than we now have.

This effort falls short of the call from Alaska Sen. Mark Begich for a federal coordinator of Arctic outer continental shelf drilling, but the new group is also broader in scope, encompassing entities as diverse as the EPA, Homeland Security and the Energy department in the process.

Oil fuels Alaska’s economy, and the folks who bring out the oil are having a hard time doing business here due to the federal permit processes. Shell Oil, for instance, has spent $3.5 billion to develop wells and has yet to drill. The government sold Shell leases in the Chuckchi Sea for $2.1 billion but has made actual use of the resources impossible.

Whether in the end the administration is serious about increasing the flow of oil from Alaska — and at one-third of its capacity the Trans-Alaska Pipeline could certainly use the higher volume — the new working group is a start.

It will be up to our senators and congressman in Washington, D.C. to closely monitor the group’s activities to see whether progress has been made.

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