As politicians in Washington state launch a legal attack intended to prevent Alaska from responsibly developing the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the shortsightedness is hard to ignore. Created by Washington’s own senators, Warren Magnuson and Scoop Jackson, the 1002 Area, consisting only of 8% of the entire refuge, was set aside in 1980 to serve the energy needs of our nation.
As governor of Alaska, I am compelled by our constitution to conserve, improve and protect Alaska’s natural resources and environment in a way that enhances the health, economic and social well-being of Alaskans. The Last Frontier’s economy depends on natural resource extraction, and I have seen firsthand that no one does it better.
Oil development in Alaska is not what it used to be. Thanks to horizontal drilling, the newest field on the North Slope of Alaska accesses more than 50 square miles of subsurface resources from a single pad supported by a 165-acre facility. Unlike the rest of the nation, the methane produced from oil extraction in Alaska is not flared into the atmosphere but rather pumped back into the ground. These are just a couple examples of how we limit our environmental footprint, decrease greenhouse gases and, in short, do it right.
I ask Washingtonians to consider how they would feel if Alaska were to sue their state for the regional extinction of Pacific salmon caused by the Grand Coulee Dam, the decades’ worth of irradiated water produced by the Hanford Nuclear Reservation or the toxic waste that flows from the Duwamish River into Puget Sound. Imagine the crippling economic impact to Washington should these lawsuits succeed. Alaska faces this reality every day for the simple crime of proposing responsible resource development projects. In fact, 14 additional states have filed lawsuits on the Section 1002 issue alone.
Alaska Natives who reside within the 1002 Area, most of whom support development, bear the brunt of this economic harm. Since oil production began in Prudhoe Bay, the life expectancy of the Iñupiat people who call the North Slope home has increased by 10 years through improvements in health care, local jobs, quality of life and education as a result of energy production. Concurrently, caribou populations in the area where oil development has occurred on the North Slope have increased dramatically in recent years.
The 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline System is already constructed and is operating at only 25% capacity. At one time, Alaska’s oil fields produced more than 2 million barrels per day, but today they produce only 500,000 barrels. The environmentally preferable option should be to utilize existing infrastructure and fill this pipeline by developing the oil resources in the 1002 Area of ANWR where people care about the animals, the air, the water, maintaining the subsistence way of life and worker safety.
Washingtonians will benefit significantly from the responsible development of the 1002 Area as they have since the genesis of North Slope drilling. Thousands of your residents work in jobs that support Alaska’s oil industry, and many more will be created when the exploration and development of ANWR commences. Washington’s five refineries, which process more than 650,000 barrels of oil each day, were specifically designed to process Alaska crude and continue to source most of their oil from Alaska today.
And that oil is not just being used to fuel cars. Washington ranks in the Top 10 in jet-fuel consumption, while Boeing manufactures about half of all large commercial aircraft in the world. Oil is needed to form the plastics found in computers that Microsoft uses to revolutionize technology. Without Alaska, where would Washington get the oil needed to drive these industries into the future?
Global demand for energy continues to increase, and estimates show that oil and gas will make up nearly half of that demand for the next 40 years. While we all support the transition to renewables, it’s important to note that wind turbines and photovoltaics require vast amounts of plastic, copper and other natural resources that come from the earth.
If Washington politicians ultimately get their wish and the 1002 Area is not developed, the state’s demand for oil to fuel Boeing, to enable Microsoft, and to run your cars and jets will have to be met by other jurisdictions around the world. These areas likely will not share Alaska’s strong environmental ethic, if they have environmental laws at all. I would encourage you instead to support responsible development in the 1002 Area for the betterment of your local economy and our global environment.
The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.