Gas taxes are redistributed to local governments to pay for transportation improvements.
Elected leaders for Seattle are demanding that the Port of Seattle cancel a lease with companies engaged in Arctic oil exploration. Yet, city government collects millions of dollars in tax revenues from Arctic-based fuel.
That reality shows how quickly the Emerald City can find itself on a slippery slope when it comes to Arctic oil.
More than 30 years after oil production was initiated in Alaska’s Arctic regions, the North Slope remains the source of half the petroleum products available in Seattle and Western Washington. The production and distribution network that supplies it are well-documented by federal and state agencies, as well as by private industry reports. The same sources show the Evergreen State is a major petroleum producer.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Washington petroleum production can total more than 600,000 barrels every day. That exceeds the fuel output of Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado combined. It even exceeds those of states with far higher energy profiles, including Oklahoma, which produces 558,000 barrels. In fact, the only states that outperform Washington are production behemoths Texas, California, Louisiana and Illinois.
The scale of this production brings jobs and high-wage benefits for those employed in the industries. But everybody in the state benefits from all the local, state and federal taxes paid by the hundreds of companies that comprise the network. The revenue stream also includes state and federal proceeds from taxes on gasoline that are redistributed to local governments to help pay for transportation.
everybody in the state benefits from all the local, state and federal taxes paid by the hundreds of companies that comprise the [oil] network.”
A quick look at the Seattle city budget for 2015 shows the motor-vehicle fuel tax produces more than $12 million a year.
If it is a moral imperative for the Port to forgo such revenue, should city officials keep it?
If morality requires city leaders to pick fights with all the public agencies that receive revenues tainted by Arctic oil, Seattle could wind up with a list of opponents longer than those of Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.
A more informed discussion about Arctic oil would help improve the community dialogue in other ways.
Rhetoric to the contrary, the issue is not about introducing drilling to the Arctic. Large-scale drilling operations were initiated in Alaska onshore and offshore more than 35 years ago. The safety and environmental records of these operations are worth examining with extensive public records providing fodder for every viewpoint.
For those who just don’t like the idea of Arctic oil, what about the alternatives? As existing Arctic resources are drawn down, state and federal records show our region receives more and more crude from the oil sands in Canada and the Bakken fields in the upper Midwest. Each of those sources pose challenges of their own.
Research by the Washington State Department of Commerce shows that in 2012, we were also receiving occasional crude shipments from Angola and Russia.
Regardless of our perspectives, nearly all of us who live in Seattle approach this issue with a very large asterisk in tow. The fuel comes our way because our daily lives require it and those giant tanks you see on Harbor Island aren’t holding goldfish. Arctic-sourced fuel brings benefits to our town along with challenges. Global climate change is just that — global. In the grand scheme, Arctic oil is just a drop in the bucket. But, in many ways, it is our bucket.
Given these realities, a little humility might be in order as the city-Port dialogue continues. Moral rectitude seems a little suspect.