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Begich sees boom in Arctic development

Alaska's junior senator claims role in oil permitting successes

Posted: March 6, 2012 - 1:03am
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich gives his annual speech to a joint session of the legislature on Monday. Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, left, and Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, listen from the Speaker's desk in the background.  Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Michael Penn/Juneau Empire
Alaska Sen. Mark Begich gives his annual speech to a joint session of the legislature on Monday. Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, left, and Speaker of the House Rep. Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski, listen from the Speaker's desk in the background.

Alaska is facing its most active year of development of its Arctic resources in years, but both the country and the state need to do more to make use of them, Sen. Mark Begich told the Alaska Legislature Tuesday.

Begich, who suggested he was responsible for some of that success, said he’s confident Shell Oil will be able to drill for oil in the outer continental shelf this year.

“I believe we will see exploration this summer in the OCS Arctic for the first time in a generation,” Begich told a joint session of the Legislature before meeting with reporters.

In addition, ConocoPhillips’ new CD-5 field in the National Petroleum Reserve is likely to be developed soon after years of delay, he said.

Efforts are continuing to get access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, he said, and the U.S. Coast Guard is beginning preliminary work on a new icebreaker which can help the nation and the state develop the Arctic. Shell has also had success in the Beaufort Sea, he said.

Begich recommended more state effort to take advantage of new development opportunities brought on by the emergence of the Arctic as a source for natural resources.

Among the actions legislators should take, he said, was boosting programs at the University of Alaska that allow Alaskans to be trained to help take advantage of those opportunities.

Begich, still two years away from a re-election bid, sounded like he was running already.

After having spent decades trying to open ANWR in hopes of one more big bonanza for the state, Begich said success in those other areas was on the verge of bringing tens of thousands of energy development jobs to the country, and new jobs for Alaskans as well.

That’s not what some people thought would happen when he was elected, Begich acknowledged.

“Some thought my election meant that Alaska would be locked up even further,” he said.

Instead, Begich said he worked to bring Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to Alaska just a few months after he took office to deliver the state’s message Alaska can responsibly develop its resources.

In the year since, he’s brought Salazar and other cabinet members back to continue to drive that message home, he said.

Despite a 40-year record of successfully developing the state’s resources, Alaska still has to deal with regulatory hurdle after hurdle when it comes to new developments, he said.

That’s a process Begich calls “regulatory whack-a-mole,” but he said the Obama administration took up his plan for regulatory streamlining “and ran with it.”

That’s now helping ConocoPhillips and Norway’s Statoil work through he regulatory process on their North Slope developments, he said.

It wasn’t always easy, especially after BP’s offshore well blowout.

“After the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, we had to work double-time to gain lost ground with the administration and the public,” he said.

Begich started with President Barack Obama and went down through his administration, and across party lines in the Congress.

The result, he said, was new success in opening Alaska for development.

“Today, just three years later, we have accomplished more than in the last 30 years to open federal lands and waters to development,” he said.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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