The following is adapted from a speech delivered on August 2, 2008, aboard the Regent Seven Seas Mariner in Juneau, Alaska, to Hillsdale College friends and supporters during the College’s “North to Alaska” cruise from Seward to Vancouver.
Next year in Alaska we are celebrating 50 years of statehood. We are still a very young state, and we’re still experiencing some growing pains, perhaps, as we seek opportunities for Alaska to become more self-sufficient and less dependent on the federal government. And the key to our becoming self-sufficient—and doing our part for our fellow Americans—is to develop further our state’s vast natural resource wealth.
Fifty years ago, this was our deal with the federal government—that we pull our own weight. And we’ve already come a long way from being known as “Seward’s Folly,” back when Alaska was purchased from the Russians for two cents an acre. We’re earning our keep, largely by tapping our energy resources such as crude oil and liquefied natural gas. In fact, Alaska has our nation’s only liquefied natural gas export facility, located in the south-central Alaska town of Nikiski. But Alaska could and should be doing much more.
Being an Alaskan today is especially exciting and historic, as the energy and fuel crisis in our nation spawns creativity and makes us reevaluate what is important and necessary. As we consider where our energy will come from in the future, Alaska can and must be a big part of the answer. In fact, Alaska has already begun to take the lead on a sorely needed national energy policy. Groundbreaking history was made just up the hill at the capitol building yesterday, as Alaska’s lawmakers voted to award TransCanada Alaska a license to proceed with fieldwork, permitting, and development of the biggest construction project in the history of North America—the building of a natural gas pipeline, a project we have been fighting to begin for three decades. Once constructed, this pipeline will supply four to four-and-one-half billion cubic feet of natural gas per day—roughly six percent of America’s demand—to our fellow countrymen in what we call “the lower 48.”
Just to provide some perspective, Alaska has tens of trillions of cubic feet of natural gas under the surface, especially on the North Slope. Alaskans have longed for the right to access our gas and more of our oil to assist in supplying the U.S. market, and now we are finally on the road to doing so. This $30-40 billion infrastructure project—which will be built by the private sector—is one of the most exciting and progressive events in Alaska’s history.
This is a good start, to be sure. But Alaska has much more to offer in the way of resources. And let me tell you clearly that we can do so in a way consistent with good environmental stewardship. Each and every Alaskan recognizes that our most precious resource is the pristine environment in which we are privileged to live and where our “First People” still subsist to this day. No one can love or care for Alaska more than Alaskans. And we who live here recognize that sound science and constantly improving technology make it possible to extract oil and gas safely and responsibly. Furthermore, with gas and fuel prices reaching record highs, oil and gas must be extracted—even as we move in the direction of renewable and alternative sources of energy.
Because of the lagging economy, Americans do not have time for “all talk and no action.” Here at home, Alaskans struggle with the highest gas prices in the nation—the cost of gas in parts of Alaska is four to five dollars more per gallon than gas in the lower 48—and many face the choice between heating their homes and putting food on the table. Now other Americans are experiencing the same challenges. And we are in this position only because Alaska’s vast resources are being warehoused underground by Congress—placing us in a ridiculous and difficult position.
The price of oil, and now gasoline, has always been sensitive and subject to events occurring outside the U.S. We have placed ourselves in the position of having to plead with Middle Eastern suppliers to increase production, when instead we could lift the development bans that are keeping us from our own resource independence—namely, the bans relating to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and offshore drilling.
Alaskans find it incredibly frustrating that others—many of whom have never even set foot in our state, much less lived here—dictate how and when we can best use our own resources. Whether over the barren tundra or in our majestic mountains, we have a strong history of responsible development. To date, Alaska has sent more than 15 billion barrels of oil, safely and efficiently, to the lower 48. One look at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System illustrates that development and wildlife can and do coexist.
I’ve heard it said by some politicians that Alaska doesn’t have enough oil to make a difference. I can tell you honestly that we do have enough. And while consultants and experts debate the current energy crisis, Alaska is already preparing for its next role—providing American consumers with a safe and secure domestic source of crude oil and natural gas. In fact, if energy imports were curtailed completely, Alaska could provide our nation with seven years of crude oil independence and an eight-year supply of natural gas. These are numbers that reflect known and recoverable oil and gas deposits.
To repeat, Prudhoe Bay has produced 15 billion barrels of crude oil, and there’s more where that came from in ANWR, which is home to more than ten billion barrels of oil and nine trillion cubic feet of natural gas. I know this is a controversial issue. But most Americans do not realize that of the 20 million acres that make up ANWR, we are asking for the right to access just 2,000 of them—a mere 1/10,000th of the total area. Opening up just that sliver of ANWR—which would create a footprint smaller than the total area of Los Angeles International Airport—could produce enough oil (an estimated one million barrels per day) to ease America’s fuel crisis and greatly reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
It is also estimated that there are 24 billion barrels of recoverable oil and another 104 trillion cubic feet of natural gas offshore. In other words, offshore areas that are geologically promising, such as the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, hold roughly three-and-one-half years of U.S. oil consumption and four-and-one-half years of natural gas.
Congress can make it possible to take advantage of these resources right now, by streamlining access to offshore areas. As usual, outside interests are throwing up roadblocks and manipulating the legal system to achieve their agenda. But we need to bring some sanity back to the legal and permitting processes in the area of energy production.
In calling for bans to be lifted in order to get our nation out of the chokehold of high oil prices and dependence on the Middle East, I am certainly not rejecting the idea of alternative and renewable resources. I believe that we need to move in that direction, ultimately weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. But we can’t do it overnight—or even over a decade. In Alaska, we have almost limitless opportunities for thermal, wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy. In fact, our capital city of Juneau receives 80 percent of its electricity from hydroelectric energy. Recently we have created a renewable/alternative energy fund with an initial $50 million that will build to $250 million over a five-year period. Yet until the science is fully developed, until all our vehicles are green, we must wisely and responsibly utilize known and given oil and natural gas resources so that we can provide for ourselves.
Alaskans are a very unique kind of people. We hear this on a regular basis from our visitors from the lower 48. One thing that makes us so unique is that we are at once fiercely independent and incredibly community-minded. It may seem as though these two qualities would be in conflict, but I believe they are the complementary qualities which, in tandem, drove the American Revolution. Our forefathers fought and died for liberty and independence, but they did so together. Today, as we seek freedom from dependence on foreign oil—and freedom from having to send our presidents to plead with the Saudis for more oil production—we must join together again, in the spirit of freedom and independence, to gain access to our own energy resources.
I say this to you not just as Alaska’s governor, but as the mother of a soldier—my son, Track, will soon be deploying overseas in service to his country and to a war that is certainly complicated by our dependence on foreign resources.
We must open ANWR and lift the ban on offshore drilling. The science and technology to harvest our resources responsibly and safely are in hand. The time for congressional action and leadership is now.