Despite Moratorium, Momentum for Arctic Offshore Oil and Gas Development Builds

February 24, 2017 in Blog

A number of state and federal lawmakers continue to push to ease regulations on, and open up the Arctic to Arctic oil and natural gas development. These efforts and comments supporting oil and gas activities in the region have revitalized momentum for offshore production in Arctic waters – despite the current ban.

Most recently, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) introduced legislation to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to onshore oil and gas activities. Murkowski, the current Senate Energy and Natural Resource s Chair, argues that doing so would be immensely beneficial to an already hurting Alaskan economy. According to Sen. Murkowski,

“Allowing development would create new jobs, reduce our deficits, and protect our national security and competitiveness for a generation.”

Created in 1980, 1.5 million of ANWR’s 19.5 million acres were designated for oil and natural gas production, a portion known as 1002 Area. The Senators hope to open just 2,000 acres for energy development from the reserve; that’s equivalent to about 0.01 percent of ANWR’s total acreage. Still, the coastal plain represents a significant opportunity. Estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey to hold around 10.4 billion barrels of oil and 8.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, production in the 1002 Area would have significant impact on Alaska and the U.S. as a whole. According to Sen. Sullivan:

“Development of this area would be a boost to our state and national economies, providing thousands of good-paying jobs and billions of dollars in federal and state revenue. Because energy can be used as a tool for power and diplomacy, developing Alaska’s abundant reserves would also strengthen our national security.”

At the state level, legislators from the Alaska State Senate and Alaska House of Representative have also put forward a similar Joint Resolution (HJR 5) to allow oil and gas development in the coastal plain of ANWR. In addition to greatly helping the Alaskan economy and people, state Representative Dean Westlake (D-Kotzebue) notes that oil and natural gas can be safely produced on ANWR’s coastal plain:

“The ability of the oil industry to safely operate in the Arctic is evidenced by the responsible development of Prudhoe Bay and other fields…I have no doubt that legislation can be crafted in Congress that can allow for development in ANWR while protecting the natural environment and the subsistence resources that are vital to my region.”

Coupled with calls for opening ANWR’s coastal plain, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) submitted a joint resolution (H.J. RES. 70) disapproving of the Department of the Interior rule governing oil and gas exploration on the Alaskan Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The rule, Rep. Young points out, is extremely costly for producers already facing the headwinds of a low price commodity market. Adding an estimated $2 billion in additional regulatory costs, Rep. Young notes that this rule only acts to hinder economic growth in Alaska:

“This rule, combined with unilateral actions to permanently withdraw the Arctic OCS for exploration, represents a significant blow to Alaska’s already sensitive economy, future development in the region and the security of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.”

These actions are just some of the many efforts pressing for oil and natural gas development off the Alaskan coast to be allowed to thrive. So while the current ban on offshore oil and gas activities might have greatly hindered production, the fight is far from over and the momentum to overturn the ban continues to grow.