Though the Arctic has been an area attracting major media attention in the last few years, the history of the region is not a recent development. Thanks to Native communities and the energy industry’s efforts, natural resource exploration and development have been taking place in the Arctic for over a century. In the American Arctic, the development of natural resources dates back to 1896, when the Alaska Petroleum Company was formed, and subsequently began leasing Alaskan land for future drilling projects. The region has also been a conduit for shipping and trade routes for many decades. Indeed, the continued economic prospects for the Arctic are very promising.
Globally, communities across the Arctic have been heavily involved in both Arctic energy and Arctic transportation projects for many years. In 1920, a Canadian team discovered a petroleum deposit and began drilling a well at the Norman Wells site (located in the Canadian Arctic). In 1934, a Soviet icebreaker completed the first one-season through-transit of the Northern Sea Route. In fact, oil and gas has been flowing in Alaska’s Arctic since 1900.
The Cook Inlet was producing commercial quantities of oil by 1957. Since then, many more fields have been developed in and around the region, and energy production has become a constant for the area. The projects in America’s Arctic have continuously created jobs and benefits for Americans. Milestones such as: Richfield Oil Corp.’s well drilled in 1957; ARCO & Standard Oil’s massive Prudhoe Bay find in 1968; the North Slope production peaking at 2 million bpd in 1988; and Alaska’s record breaking 2008 lease sale that brought in $2.6 billion in bonus bids have all added immense value to the economies of Alaska and America.
These historical energy projects have not only added monetary value to America’s Arctic and beyond, they have also fostered cooperation among the Native communities of the region. In 2014, six North Slope village corporations joined to together to advocate for the Inupiat in matters related to oil and gas development. The group was named Arctic Inupiat Offshore (AIO), and it remains active today. Leaders of the group explained the importance of AIO saying:
“to join AIO is unprecedented; it stands to bring financial stability and alignment to the village corporations across the North Slope from responsible off-shore development.”
With all of this history, it is important to remember that there is still an abundance of resources throughout the Arctic. The March issue of National Geographic highlights this in its piece on the Arctic stating:
“More than a fifth of the world’s conventional oil and gas that has yet to be discovered lies above the Arctic Circle, according to a 2008 estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey, and the region is rich in other minerals too.”
The National Petroleum Council’s 2015 Arctic report emphasized the importance of undiscovered resources and highlighted how important they are:
“Arctic oil and gas resources are estimated to be large and can contribute significantly to meeting future U.S. and global energy needs“
Countless studies have highlighted the massive amount of energy reserves that sit in the offshore Arctic. Unfortunately, activist’s recent attempts to obfuscate the energy opportunity ignore the history and the facts. In reality, energy development in the Arctic has been taking place (and evolving) for decades. Each new energy project has ushered in new knowledge of the region and allowed explorers to further improve their processes. The impressive feats of discovery and development have helped to create a remarkable history of the Arctic that is just as rich as the resources it houses.
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