In coordination with Alaska’s 150th cession anniversary, Senator and Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski organized a hearing in DC to discuss the state’s infrastructure needs and what the federal government can do to address these needs. The panelists at the Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting were all Alaskans with extensive knowledge of their regions and industry fields. Multiple panelists described how some of the state’s infrastructure needs have or could be met by the energy industry.
Alaska Department of Natural Resources Geologist Steve Masterman kicked off the panel with his testimony on the natural resource abundance of the state. Masterman repeatedly stressed his desire for these natural resources to be developed and noted that Alaska is nowhere near realizing its resource potential. Masterman also addressed the shortage of roads in Alaska, which can prevent or delay resource development. Companies will be less inclined to initiate projects that they can’t get to. He noted that Alaska has almost one-fifth of the nation’s land mass, but less than one percent of the nation’s roads.
Masterman called on the committee and the federal government as a whole to partner with Alaska on infrastructure that will benefit the state and the nation:
“The more we provide access to Alaska’s natural resources, the more employment, economic, and security benefits we expect to accrue to Alaska and the nation. With solid federal support, we look forward to filling Alaska’s role as a storehouse for our nation’s energy and mineral resources”
Senator Murkowski then spent some time highlighting the partnerships that can and need to occur
“One of the things I think we learned from Alaska and what Shell was attempting to do in the offshore several years back was – they recognized that there needed to be greater mapping and so what we saw was the private sector, industry needing to get information, getting much of it themselves, and then sharing that information. So we saw a partnering, if you will, that allowed for some of the work that I think most would expect has already been done in Alaska.”
Kara Moriarty, President of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association (AOGA), discussed the many exciting projects that are coming online on the North Slope – from Caelus’ Smith Bay development, to ConocoPhillip’s Willow project. She discussed the need for infrastructure to help support these and other future energy development projects. Moriarty addressed Sen. Murkowski’s Shell reference and pointed out:
“You gave Shell as the example of how their industry investment led to increased infrastructure around the Arctic […] That’s not unusual. Industry will invest private sector dollars if they think there is an economical project there, and if they have the [regulatory] framework to do so. That partnership between industry and federal or local government has existed since we started development in Alaska sixty years ago.”
Moriarty then went on to tout the importance of such partnerships:
“Having a strong partnership is important […] There is a litany of examples that happened during Shell or happen today about how when industry comes, there is a benefit for all.”
Additionally, Joy Baker, Executive Director of the Port of Nome, brought her maritime expertise to the panel and emphasized the necessity for an Arctic deep draft port to be constructed at Nome. She described how Shell’s Burger project increased maritime activity in the region and noted that after the company left, activity has continued to sky rocket in the area. This activity has led to “much needed economic activity” for the town of Nome and other nearby villages.
This week’s hearing on Alaska infrastructure paid homage to progress that Alaska has achieved since the Treaty of Cession was signed 150 years ago, while focusing on the progress that still needs to be achieved in the future. Senator Murkowski called on the witnesses to think creatively about their priorities and how they can achieve them with or without the government’s help. Partnerships between state of Alaska and the energy industry can accelerate progress and deliver important investment that the federal government is unable to provide.