By: Dave Harbour

The Alaska House Resources Committee recently heard truck drivers, oil field workers and small business owners testify about Alaska’s poor investment climate. They painted pictures of wage freezes, layoffs, benefit reductions and outmigration of experienced Alaskans to the booming oil and gas investment climate of North Dakota.

While uncompetitive and burdensome state tax policies affect oil and gas investment and jobs on state lands, federal policies that also affect our investment climate are choking the economy as well.

As unrest continues throughout the Middle East and gas pump prices are jumping to the highest level ever for this time of year, we recall similar times from America’s past. During the oil crisis of the 1970s, Americans faced what seemed like insurmountable economic and energy challenges, but instead of retreating, the nation pushed for U.S. energy independence. By advancing offshore oil and gas production and constructing the trans-Alaska oil pipeline system, America rejuvenated development of domestic resources, economic growth, job creation and revenue for the federal treasury.

Given America’s economic challenges and our supply of abundant oil and natural gas reserves, this is a history lesson worth remembering — particularly for policymakers in Washington, D.C., who consistently deny citizens access to our own, domestic resources.

What is our domestic energy potential?

In 2006, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement estimated that all the undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and natural gas resources located in known oil and gas fields in the U.S. outer continental shelf was about

66 billion to 115 billion barrels of oil and 326 trillion to 565 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Isn’t it illogical that our own government would block access to such large quantities of American energy while we continue sending our jobs and wealth to foreign countries that are eager to put their people to work developing their resources for our money?

Alaska’s ample energy resources could significantly increase U.S. energy supplies. According to federal government estimates, the waters off Alaska’s coasts contain about

27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Alaska holds the eighth-largest oil reserve in the world, ahead of Nigeria, Libya, Russia and Norway.

With Alaska’s strong supply reserve, it’s no wonder the oil, gas and support industries supply more than 40,000 jobs in the state, which add more than $6 billion to Alaska’s gross state product. During this period of high unemployment and tough economic challenges, Alaska’s OCS could serve as a true economic stimulus across the nation, creating tens of thousands of high-paying jobs for decades to come.

So, if Alaska OCS development offers thousands of jobs and economic benefits to Alaska and the entire nation, what are we waiting for?

Unfortunately, the federal government refuses to keep faith with its obligation to its leaseholders and issue viable permits to drill offshore Alaska. That unjustified obstruction of our own federal government blocks access to our energy resources while outsourcing American jobs, government revenue and economic benefits to exporting countries. Misguided or poorly motivated bureaucrats are threatening the long-term viability of the pipeline, tens of thousands of Alaska jobs and the third of our economy that depends on that economic lifeline.

The Interior Department’s BOEMRE has been holding hearings for input on areas to include in its next five-year plan for offshore oil and gas leasing, which includes areas in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas and the Cook Inlet. BOEMRE and other agencies have stalled existing Alaska OCS development for more than two years. We need to tell them to responsibly permit existing projects now and lease new areas as soon as possible.

Hearings began Feb. 14 in Kotzebue and continued in Kotzebue, Wainwright, Barrow, Nuiqsut, Kaktovik, Houston, New Orleans and Dulles Airport. BOEMRE will bypass Fairbanks and end in Anchorage Friday, at 7 p.m., in its office at 3801 Centerpoint Dr.

Since OCS oil could help sustain our two-thirds empty pipeline, I’m hoping many Alaskans will come to the Friday hearing — including Interior friends with family and associates in Anchorage. Come early, because environmental “community organizers” are trying to turn out the anti-jobs crowd.

Then, let’s tell the Interior Department that, in the future, Interior Alaska should be consulted and included in hearing schedules, since the department’s OCS decisions affect the entire economy and jobs throughout the entire state, not just in coastal areas.

Dave Harbour is former chairman of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska, the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce and the Alaska Council on Economic Education. He is publisher of