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Alaska's need to be front and center in national energy production

Posted: December 11, 2013 - 12:01am

In October, our nation reached a little noticed but significant milestone: America’s production of oil in America by Americans exceeded imports for the first time in nearly 20 years.

If this trend continues as is projected, the U.S. will surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia to become the world’s largest oil producer later this year.

Long America’s energy storehouse, Alaska should be leading our nation’s domestic energy renaissance. Unfortunately, today we’re not.

We have the resources; what’s needed is the right mix of state and federal policies to deliver them to market.

For years, U.S. politicians bemoaned our nation’s purchase of crude oil from foreign countries, many of which don’t like us and which we empowered by buying their oil. That reached a peak in 2005 when America imported 60 percent of the oil it consumed.

Thanks to surging domestic oil production from shale oil in North Dakota and Texas, net oil imports last month dropped to their lowest level since 1995. By next year, imports are projected to comprise only 28 percent of U.S. oil production, the lowest level in nearly 30 years.

The independent think tank International Energy Agency projects America’s need for oil imports could virtually disappear in just 20 years. Alaska should play a leading role in fulfilling that long-sought dream of energy independence.

Alaska’s oil and gas reserves are enormous and unmatched: 35 billion barrels of oil and 161 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from our most promising prospects in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The University of Alaska’s Institute of Social and Economic Research says production in Alaska’s offshore Arctic waters alone could last for 50 years and generate 54,000 jobs nationwide.

This also would generate an estimated $100 billion in local, state and federal revenues to help pay for the impacts of oil and gas production and fund essential public services and facilities. This would come at a critical time for the State of Alaska, which is facing a $2 billion budget deficit and the prospect of harmful budget cuts.

Despite state efforts to reverse the trends, oil production on state lands continues to decline, dropping about 6 percent annually. Today, a little more than 500,000 barrels of oil runs through the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline each day, just a quarter of peak production.

In the face of lackluster production on state lands, the bulk of Alaska’s future oil and gas production will come from federal lands and waters. That’s why I continue to aggressively push President Obama and in Congress for the right policies to develop Alaska’s energy potential.

After 25 years of trying, we finally convinced the Obama administration to permit oil and gas exploration in Alaska’s waters off the North Slope. Shell’s recent decision to resume its offshore development in the Beaufort and Chukchiseas is great news, which should be followed by others such as Conoco-Phillips and Statoil.

To guarantee Alaskans receive their fair share of this development, my revenue sharing legislation would provide billions of dollars to the state, local communities and even tribes.

To keep Alaska at the forefront of Arctic development, I introduced legislation to expedite development of an Arctic deep-water port.

On the NPRA, we worked to clear bureaucratic hurdles for ConocoPhillips’ CD-5 development which will bring on line up to 55,000 barrels a day of new production, the first from this petroleum reserve.

We’ve also held off the naysayers who want to lock up Alaska. The annual legislation to prohibit oil and gas development in ANWR, which normally gains the support of a couple dozen senators, was introduced this year with just two sponsors.

And when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell recently threatened to prohibit ANWR development through unilateral administrative action, I told her in no uncertain terms that is short-sighted, poor public policy and I will fight it.

When the Obama administration and some in Congress, including members of my own party, wanted to eliminate long-standing incentives for domestic energy development, I said no. As a result, those provisions remain on the books, encouraging increased oil and gas development across the nation.

When it comes to getting Alaska’s enormous natural gas to market, I introduced legislation to extend the benefits of the federal gasline coordinator’s office to any Alaska gas project, not just to a line through Canada to the Lower 48 as envisioned in the original 2004 law.

Our nation should be justifiably proud of its significant achievement of producing more energy at home than we import from the Middle East and other countries. Alaskans will be even more proud when we make a more significant contribution to U.S. energy production by responsibly developing our enormous oil and gas resources to meet America’s energy needs.

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