Yesterday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton released a conservation plan opposing offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic that conveniently overlooks a long history of safe offshore exploration and production in the Arctic, trivializes the importance of continued American energy security for decades to come, and snubs the needs of the many local Alaskans who rely on oil and gas revenues and who resoundingly support Arctic drilling.
Arctic: Long History of Safe Development
By calling the Arctic “a unique treasure” and Arctic oil and gas development “simply too risky to be pursued,” presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has evidently bought into popular misconceptions about the Arctic as “one of the last great wild places on the planet,” “the nation’s largest wild landscape,” a “beautiful, vital, pristine landscape at the top of our world,” as popularized by activist organizations peddling an anti-development agenda.
On the contrary, the long history of safe offshore oil and gas development in the Arctic began with the Endicott field in the Alaskan Beaufort Sea, which was discovered in 1978 and began producing continuously in 1986. Since then, not only has industry pioneered technological innovations that have improved drilling technology in Arctic conditions (chapter six), but it has also funded and spearheaded research on the Arctic environment and on Arctic oil spill response techniques.
That the Arctic is still popularly conceived of as an untrodden frontier – “a pristine snow globe that should be locked away in a museum of pretty places” or a “fancy photo on a postcard or a green screen backdrop for the anti-resource development agenda” – is, in itself, a testament to the oil and gas industry’s record of safe and responsible development in that area. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) captured this irony during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing last month, when she said,
“I recognize that we use perhaps terms of convenience in describing Alaska as perhaps this wild, unknown frontier that we don’t happen to know a lot about. And truth be told, the amount of exploration that was conducted in the 1980s was quite significant, and I think the beauty of it is that we’ve forgotten all about it, because we didn’t have any problems, we didn’t have the issues, and the concerns that many had feared simply did not materialize.”
Arctic Energy: Integral to Lasting Energy Security
Clinton’s “comprehensive energy and climate agenda” claims to “guard against energy supply disruptions,” but the best guard against such disruptions is to ensure that America is not dependent on other countries for energy. Strong gains in domestic oil production in recent years have led to record low oil imports, but new production is needed to ensure that the energy security America is currently enjoying will continue for decades to come. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects U.S. oil production to begin falling in the 2020s and continue declining through 2040 – all while net oil imports rise. That’s where the untapped energy reserves in the Arctic become a critical energy source.
The U.S. Arctic holds 34 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BBOE) of oil – about 15 years of U.S. net oil imports at 2015 levels – and 60 BBOE of gas, but these resources need to developed now if they are to be available to meet the growing demand for energy in the future.
Because of factors ranging from a shorter drilling season to a more rigorous permitting process, the development of offshore Arctic resources requires much longer lead times: at least 10 years, and possibly more than 30 years. Therefore, even if the U.S. Arctic saw a significant ramp-up in offshore drilling during this decade, the new supply of domestic energy would not become available until the 2030s and 2040s – which is precisely when the EIA expects production from the Lower 48 states to decline. In fact, a report by the National Petroleum Council (NPC), an advisory committee established by the Secretary of the Interior and chartered by the Secretary of Energy, concluded:
“If development starts now, the long lead times necessary to bring on new crude oil production from Alaska would coincide with a long-term expected decline of U.S. Lower 48 production. Alaskan opportunities can play an important role in extending U.S. energy security in the decades of the 2030s and 2040s.”
Local Alaskans Support Arctic Drilling
Local Alaskans live closer to Arctic drilling than anyone else, making them the most aware of – and vulnerable to – the perceived concerns regarding development. Yet, they have been consistently and persistently vocal in their support for development.
“ASRC supports the responsible development of America’s Arctic oil and gas resources in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. The development of Arctic oil and gas resources provides our communities with the means to preserve our traditional way of life and culture while also allowing our residents to enjoy a greater quality of life.”
Last month, John Hopson, Mayor of the City of Wainwright, Alaska, told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources that each of the eight communities on the North Slope is “surviving based on oil revenue,” that “we need revenue to be able to live at home,” that “we need development; it just amounts to that.”
The Obama Administration, by imposing burdensome regulations that crippled development last year and canceling Arctic offshore lease sales originally scheduled for 2016 and 2017, has “repeatedly denied Alaska’s best opportunities to produce energy for our nation and the world,” in Sen. Murkowski’s words. The next person to assume the most important leadership position in the world has the opportunity to support the subsistence lifestyles and rich cultures Alaska Natives have cultivated over the course of centuries and to bolster American and global energy security for generations to come. To dismiss this opportunity in favor of catchy slogans and feel-good platitudes that pander to special interests would be shortsighted and reckless.