Advocates of increased domestic drilling have enough important battles brewing in the country’s lower 48 states to keep them busy. But it is important that we don’t inadvertently overlook Alaska, or dismiss it as a region where drilling is alive and well.
In some respects, drilling is alive and well in Alaska. The state accounts for almost 15% of total U.S. production and the Alaska Pipeline Service Company says it transports some 730,000 barrels per day.
But production is way down from its peak and the current capacity on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System is less than half the 2.1 million barrels per day shipped in 1988. This diminished capacity flies in the face of abundant reserves. The U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS), which tends to err on the conservative side, estimates that there are some 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the waters off the coast of Alaska. That’s just about a third of all the oil estimated to lie beneath all the country’s offshore waters.
Oil producers in the Gulf of Mexico got some good news last month when a U.S. appeals court clarified an earlier decision and ruled that oil and gas projects initiated under the Bush Administration could go forward as planned. But that ruling left projects in Alaska’s Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering Seas in limbo. Although the federal government last year awarded $2.6 billion in leases in Alaska, those projects remain on hold, pending the resolution of some frivolous lawsuits.
Some of the country’s contested oil production sites would add incrementally to the domestic energy supply, and these incremental improvements are definitely worth pursuing, both for conventional and alternative sources of power. However the reserves in Alaska are so vast, they hold the collective potential to be a real game changer, helping the U.S. significantly reduce the oil it imports from overseas. The Chukchi Sea is considered the most underdeveloped source of offshore petroleum in the U.S.
One study by the University of Alaska estimated that Alaska’s outer continental shelf could produce nearly 1.8 million barrels a day, or 300,000 thousands barrels per day more than what we currently import from Saudi Arabia. The same study estimates there is enough natural gas in those waters to produce 13% of total U.S. demand.
It goes without saying that increased oil and natural gas production would create thousands of new jobs. Another important wrinkle in the case for more exploration and drilling in Alaska is that the Trans Alaska Pipeline System depends on it. Without the addition of new oil from Alaska’s coastal waters TAPS’ capacity could decline to the point that, by the year 2046, it could no longer be viable.
There may not be a quick resolution to the disputed leases in Alaska, but it is critical that we remain focused on this oil-rich region and continue a grassroots campaign to put pressure on lawmakers to make the decision that is right for the country’s energy security and its economy. The recent favorable rulings covering Gulf drilling show that these efforts do not go unnoticed. The Call to Action section of CEA’s Web site details why a strong domestic oil sector is critical. When writing to your Congressional representatives, feel free to use any of the attached text, or make the case in our own words. And thank you for all your help so far. It has made all the difference.