Oil and gas exploration and development brings public exposure and attention to remote areas such as Alaska, which otherwise risk being overlooked. New projects, and the publicity that comes with them, can spur infrastructure investments and catalyze other government initiatives which support local citizens.
State Department Special Representative for the Arctic, Admiral Robert J. Papp, brought this message to a Brookings Institution event in Washington D.C. this week, when he argued that Arctic energy exploration can help increase national awareness of the many initiatives which have been launched to aid Arctic communities.
When asked about the impact of Shell’s suspension of its Arctic activities last year, Admiral Papp stressed:
“The country needs…. a deepwater port in Alaska, better telecommunications, and a whole list of issues that we need to be prepared for. The fact that Shell was going to be operational here provided incentive and drew attention to so many of the area’s other needs.”
Similarly President Obama’s trip to Alaska last August highlighted a variety of policy priorities of Alaskans that most Americans in the lower 48 states had been unaware of, including vital power sector transformation and rural infrastructure works.
But as Admiral Papp acknowledged, much of the political impetus for addressing these problems has relied on the attention generated by potential oil and gas exploration. Attention which might now fade in the absence of future activity:
“I am discouraged that Shell is not going to be drilling up there in the near future, because it was visible, and was something that really drew a lot of attention and provided a sense of urgency to act. Shell pulling out….has reduced interest and….removes one of those incentives for us to feel a sense of urgency to start to making investments in all those things…”
According to the United States Geological Survey, the Arctic holds around 22 percent of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves. Admiral Papp emphasized this potential, noting that if carefully developed it could play an important role in meeting the world’s future energy demand:
“I don’t accept as gospel that we have to leave all the carbon in the ground… the fact of the matter is that unless we come up immediately with another energy source, [the world is] going to continue to be dependent on carbon products.”
Creating a reasonable, balanced regulatory environment that allows responsible development of this important resource would create jobs, provide economic stimulus, and shed light once again on Arctic priorities.
Image Credit: Charles Ebinger