Safe Development of ANWR Coastal Plain is Key to America's Energy Future
Posted January 6, 2021
An important point for consideration by opponents of the scheduled natural gas and oil lease sale for the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska: World demand for energy will continue rising into the future as far as we can see.
Both the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency project that – the effects of the pandemic aside – demand for energy, led by natural gas and oil is going to increase. IEA estimates that even with the U.S. participating in the Paris Climate Agreement, natural gas and oil will supply about half, and perhaps more, of the world’s energy in 2040.
While President-elect Joe Biden flatly opposes even the preliminary steps toward safely developing this consequential energy reserve, his opposition is more about politics than wisely planning for the baseload energy the U.S. will need – for its economy and security – years after he leaves the White House. Frank Macchiarola, API senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs:
“The Coastal Plain lease sale is the result of a decades-long process of robust environmental review confirming that oil and natural gas development can be done responsibly in the designated areas. This relatively small portion of the Arctic represents an important opportunity to strengthen U.S. energy security, create good-paying jobs and provide much-needed revenue for Alaska. Despite the potential for new development, this remains a challenging time for the global economy and for our industry. Policy threats in Washington D.C. combined with a decline in demand due to the pandemic creates continued uncertainty that could likely impact investment decisions.”
Sure, there will be a new ANWR debate in Washington after the lease sale and after the new administration takes office. So, here are three things to know about ANWR and safely developing energy there:
1. Area 1002 within ANWR is relatively small – and the area to be developed is even smaller
Opponents make it sound like development would turn the entire 19.3 million-acre refuge into Saudi Arabia.
In the map below from the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, you can see that while the whole of ANWR is about the size of South Carolina, the coastal plain or Area 1002, where natural gas and oil would be produced, is 1.5 million acres. ANWR’s other 17.5 million acres are and will continue to be wilderness and mountains that are off limits to development.
Even more, within Area 1002, surface development is limited to 2,000 acres on federal lands or a little more than 3 square miles – shown to scale in the map by the little red box above the “A” in ANWR Coastal Plain – which is about the size of a major airport.
The majestic Brooks Mountain Range – photos of which development opponents usually include in their advocacy materials – is not in Area 1002. The range is well south of the coast in the heart of the refuge.
There are no forests there, no polar bears lounging around. It’s coastal flatland (U.S. Geological Survey photo), similar to the Prudhoe Bay area to the west, where careful energy development has been ongoing for more than four decades.
2. Most Alaskans, including most Iñupiat living in Area 1002, support safe development
Alaska is an energy state, ranking fifth in U.S. oil production as of last fall. Development of Alaska’s North Slope reserves and construction and operation of the 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) to safely transport that oil to the state’s southern coast revolutionized the state’s economy and created better lives for Alaskans – creating jobs and adding billions to the state economy.
Safe development in Area 1002 could generate gross proceeds from bonus bids on ANWR leases topping $2 billion over a decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimated a few years ago. Half would go to the state treasury.
Future development is supported by the only Alaska Native village in the area and Alaska’s congressional representatives. Matthew Rexford, tribal administrator for the village of Kaktovik, urged the U.S. Senate in 2017 to resist efforts to turn the homeland of the Arctic Iñupiat into one giant national park, guaranteeing them a future with “no economy, no jobs, reduced subsistence and no hope for the future of our people.” Rexford:
“Attempts to permanently block development in the 1002 – an area intentionally not designated as wilderness because of its oil and gas potential – is a slap in the face to our region and its people. It’s exactly the same as saying, ‘It’s okay for everyone else in this country to have a thriving economy, but you can’t have one at all.’”
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in a recent newspaper op-ed, wrote that Alaska knows how to do energy development the right way, with reduced surface footprint and measures that require methane produced from oil extraction to be pumped back into the ground. Dunleavy noted that the life expectancy of the Iñupiat people has increased by 10 years because of improvements in health care, local jobs and education – all supported by energy development.
3. ANWR’s Area 1002 is critical to America’s energy future
ANWR is a key part of America’s long-term energy security. The time to address long-term needs is now, not when those needs become pressing. Other nations, including Russia, are looking to the Arctic to help meet future energy demand. The U.S. should do likewise or risk signaling retreat from a region of strategic importance.
The 1002 area is the best chance for new, major U.S. oil discovery and production that would help keep our country secure decades into the future.
The importance of ANWR’s Area 1002 is underscored by declining production on the North Slope. Oil production from Prudhoe Bay has been decreasing for a decade. TAPS, which was built in part as a response to the 1973-74 Arab oil embargo, is operating at about one-quarter of its capacity. Oil transported by the pipeline supplies the West Coast, and without new supplies going in, the pipeline eventually would have to be shut down. Losing a pipeline capable of supplying one-tenth of the country’s oil needs would be a major mistake. API President and CEO Mike Sommers wrote recently:
On so many levels, U.S. energy security, and our national security, is tied to keeping Alaska energy strong. … To make Alaska and U.S. energy security stronger than ever, it just needs to be unleashed – and smart energy policy can make it happen.
As we said above, U.S. and world energy demand are projected to grow, so the question becomes how will that demand – of which natural gas and oil are leading players – be met, domestically or from others? Macchiarola:
“Congress has already acted to open ANWR for safe development, and we welcome any progress in moving forward. Development in ANWR is long overdue and will create good-paying jobs and provide a new revenue stream for the state—which is why a majority of Alaskans support it. Our industry will continue to build on its long track record of partnering with wildlife organizations and local communities in the state to implement strong environmental protections while leveraging new technology to safely and responsibly develop these important energy resources.”
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.
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