There was a curious scene in oil-rich Alaska this week. When a massive winter storm blocked normal fuel deliveries, the city of Nome received an emergency delivery of fuel from Korea, brought in on a Russian tanker with ice breaking capabilities.

This week’s fuel delivery was most likely a one-time event resulting from an act of God and some good international teamwork. But the timing of the event and its location bring to mind that, at a time when U.S. regulators are moving forward with plans to open parts of Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas to drilling, problems arise when we can’t access the abundant resources in our own backyard. The Interior Department is currently holding a series of public hearings on Outer Continental Shelf drilling, which now appears set to move forward, following years of delays.  And while we are optimistic for a long-awaited breakthrough that will create jobs and boost our domestic fuel supply, it’s important to also focus on the danger of further delays.

Failing to develop parts of Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf would not only block us from accessing what is believed to be one of largest sources of crude oil in the world, but, as we’ve noted before, it could also threaten the viability of TAPS, the Trans Alaska Pipeline System. TAPS is vital infrastructure which provides a very efficient system for moving oil from production sites in northern Alaska. The 800-mile pipeline needs to maintain certain volumes of crude oil, and that has become increasingly challenging in recent years. Without TAPS, you have a whole lot of oil in Alaska and no cost-effective way to get it to consumers in the continental U.S.

We hope that we will avoid a situation where such a valuable piece of infrastructure is left idle. But under such a scenario, Alaskan producers would face real challenges over what to do with the oil coming out of the ground. Exporting it abroad could start to look more cost-efficient than moving it via tanker on the long trip to the lower 48 states. The thought of exporting our own Alaskan oil might sound absurd, but the fact is, we have to take proactive steps today to ensure the long-term viability of the pipeline as well as the development of one of our best sources of oil. Today, your support of oil and gas exploration and production in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi Seas is critical.