Featured, Opinion

Two Perspectives on the Future of The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)

From the Alaska Chamber of Commerce:

Let’s not be our own worst enemy in developing ANWR

by Curtis Thayer-

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to our Congressional Delegation Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Dan Sullivan, and Congressman Don Young. They delivered the ultimate Christmas gift to Alaska, the ability to open the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for safe and environmentally responsible oil exploration.

ANWR has been a 37-year, uphill battle, eventually passed by Congress only to be vetoed by President Clinton in 1995. Now that Congress and President Trump have finally approved ANWR, Alaska must not squander the opportunity. Considering how we have stymied progress on new oil discoveries by independents during the past three years, we are now our own worst enemy to developing ANWR.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with several independent oil companies’ executives, some doing business in Alaska and others not. And while their interests and objectives vary, there are common conversational threads throughout, some heartening and all worth noting.

Most independents believe that Alaska has the potential to be one of the hottest oil basins in the world. In fact, it’s a point that has been reiterated time and again. I find that very encouraging, but it begs the question, “Why aren’t we seeing a boom on the North Slope?”

The independents’ answers were swift and critical. They said we need to listen as a state and be pro-active to take advantage of the huge opportunity to compete with other states and attract the billions of dollars available for investment after the passage to the recent federal tax legislation.

They weren’t critical of our geological formations or their potential; rather, as one seasoned North Slope independent put it, “Alaska’s problems aren’t in the rocks, the state’s problems are all above the rocks.” This is one of the universal themes shared by the industry executives I’ve spoken with. They believe the state’s problems are of our own making, and what I find encouraging is that these problems are preventable.

All the independents agree that we need to approve permits in a reasonable amount of time. California, for instance, is revered as an environmentally sensitive state. It’s embarrassing that their permitting time is a fraction of what companies must endure here in Alaska.

The independents also complained about the state’s confusing and ever-changing tax code. They wondered why they couldn’t create a simple, reasonable and fair tax code and stick with it like all the other oil basin states do.

Some executives suggest that Alaska might partner with industry by helping with much-needed infrastructure. Similar to what we did to stimulate the development of Red Dog Mine, we can build roads, airstrips and shared facilities that become revenue generators through industry user fees. Others were critical; suggesting that the State could do to work with native village corporations to improve relationships and help mitigate land use plans and permits.

All the independents agree that if the state would meaningfully address these concerns that Alaska’s oil fields would boom with success. Success seldom just happens. It’s not a game… it is a plan and a strategy. And if we want success, we need to address these concerns with practical resolve.

Independents like Hilcorp, Armstrong Oil & Gas, Caelus Energy Alaska, LLC, and Oil Search – coupled with companies like BP, ConocoPhillips, and ExxonMobil – are all striving to ignite a renaissance on the North Slope. They are proving that our geological formations are oil rich with much more still to be discovered. These companies are finding success despite the unfriendly environment that has soiled Alaska’s reputation with investors and explorers.

It’s time that we quit fighting industry over nickels and dimes when billions are at stake. It’s time to remove the barriers that hinder our state’s financial success.

With the New Year fresh, let’s seize this opportunity and work to realize our potential. Let’s put our minds and efforts towards creating new wealth for Alaska instead of fighting over a series of nuisance and regressive taxes that will harm the economic well-being of our communities. The opportunities exist for success. All we need now is the political will and leadership to realize that success.

It’s time to roll up our sleeves, formulate a plan, implement that plan, and enjoy a tremendous 2018 for Alaska.

Curtis W. Thayer is lifelong Alaskan and serves as president and CEO of the Alaska Chamber.

From the Alaska Wilderness League:

Diversify Alaska’s Oil Dependent Economy

by Haley Johnston

In October, the U.S. Senate passed a budget resolution that included projected revenue from drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

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The next morning I received an email from a former client, Andrew. It read, “Practically in tears…” Earlier that morning, he sent an email to everyone in his email contact list directing them to links regarding the Arctic Refuge and detailing what he had done personally to protect the Refuge: emailed and called representatives, donated to environmental nonprofits, etc. The email acknowledged his disappointment, but encouraged everyone to keep up the fight.

I traveled with Andrew to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 as a guide. Traveling with him was a pleasure and we have stayed in touch since then. I share Andrew’s disappointment and I too find myself “practically in tears” when I think about the potential destruction in the Arctic.

What sets the refuge apart from other lands in our nation is its “intactness.” Between the Arctic Refuge’s 19 million acres and the 3.5 million adjacent acres of protected land in Canada, our two nations have taken an incredible step toward protecting polar bears, their denning sites and hunting grounds, caribou, their calving areas and migratory paths, wolves, grizzlies, Dall sheep, musk ox, wolverines, an incredibly diverse array of migratory, resident and nesting birds, rare alpine plants and cultural sites. Ruining a portion of the Refuge affects its whole because no part of this great place exists in a vacuum. Damage to the natural world, even in a small corner of this place, has the potential to send waves of disruption across the whole refuge.

What’s more, Andrew helped to keep me, one of the 38,700 people employed by tourism in Alaska, employed by choosing to travel to the Arctic Refuge. The average visitor to Alaska spends roughly $1000 during their stay. Andrew spent more than $6000 on his trip not including airfare. As Andrew’s experience demonstrates, the average visitor to the Arctic Refuge spends far more the typical Alaska tourist. And, it’s well worth the money – people come here for a truly unique experience and Alaska never disappoints.

I have many clients that have returned to Alaska more than 15 times to travel through and experience our untouched wilderness. Andrew was so blown away by his visit to the Arctic Refuge that he made plans to come back to Alaska this summer. He has plans for another, longer trip in the future. All told, Andrew’s Alaska experiences will lead him to spend at least $12,000.

Andrew is just one of the over 40 guests I have guided in the Arctic Refuge. And I am just one guide at a small operator which seasonally employs 25 people. And that operator is just one of dozens permitted to guide trips in the Arctic Refuge. Those visitor dollars add up and help to diversify Alaska’s oil-dependent economy.

And then there is Alaska’s brand to consider. Visitors come to the Arctic Refuge for its untouched, pristine intactness. That reputation doesn’t stop at the Arctic Refuge’s border. That reputation draws people to every corner of our great state. When the battles over the Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay and drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge make national news, our state’s tourism brand is degraded bit by bit.

The nation and the world see an Alaskan delegation, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young, who do not value wilderness and are willing to sacrifice it for further resource extraction. They hear the misinformation spread by our representatives that all Alaskans want development to occur in the Arctic. They don’t hear about people like me, or the 1500 Alaskans who signed the Alaska Wilderness League’s latest petition decrying development in the Arctic Refuge. Perhaps potential visitors will choose the Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands or Canada’s Yukon Territory for their next trip, feeling those countries have a greater commitment to environmental stewardship.

There is still hope that the drilling will not occur in the Arctic Refuge. The economic realities of the oil and gas industry and constituent opposition both have the potential to stall any drilling until the political atmosphere allows us to achieve permanent protections for the Arctic Refuge. I am both disappointed in our current elected leaders and optimistic that we can still protect this last great wilderness.

Haley Johnston is a wilderness guide based in Anchorage, AK.

Featured Image: “Scales” by Mauro Cateb / CC BY 2.0

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