President Trump’s tax reform included a bonus for consumers, taxpayers, and Alaska: opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy development. Such action reverses a four-decade, Carter-to-Obama animus against developing what the federal government has estimated could be one of the largest oil fields in U.S. history.
Americans consume twenty million barrels of oil per day — or more than seven billion barrels per year. That amount is expected to grow as petroleum not only continues to dominate transportation but also — as the brutal recent cold has reminded us — heat millions of homes and generate electricity.
ANWR should already be in production, providing an estimated 1 million barrels per day. Still, the timing of ANWR legalization could not be better to make Alaska, once again, an energy superpower.
Spanning 19 million acres, or about four times the size of Massachusetts, ANWR encompasses Alaska’s entire Northeastern corner. But only about 8 percent of the refuge — roughly 1.5 million acres — has been officially designated for potential energy development.
Alaska’s economy needs resource legalization. Revenue from the state’s Trans-Alaska oil pipeline accounts for 85 percent of the state’s budget, but local production has steadily fallen since the mid-1980s. Today, the TAPS pipeline is three-quarters empty, and the state is staring down a $3 billion budget deficit and a 7.2 percent unemployment rate, the highest in the country.
ANWR drilling would address these problems. Permitting companies to develop ANWR’s resources would generate as much as $150 billion in state revenue over 50 years — and potentially generate twice as much in new federal revenue.
The sooner ANWR is developed, the sooner the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) can return to prominence.
Last April, the Trump administration laid the legal groundwork for ANWR development with an executive order easing up access to federal land. The Interior Department then released rules for exploratory Arctic drilling. Congress then acted by requiring federal energy officials to raise $1 billion in tax revenue in 10 years as part of the new tax bill — and the obvious way to do that was to open up ANWR to lease sales.
The Department of the Interior is now required to conduct one ANWR lease sale within the next four years. In the meantime, geologists will conduct seismic testing to determine exactly how much oil and gas is available.
Developers can extract ANWR’s oil with minimal — possibly zero –environmental damage, while keeping the vast majority of the reserve pristine. A new generation of drilling technology has birthed rigs that can, through a single platform, extract oil from an underground area larger than Washington, D.C. Firms would only need to set up shop in a few select locations.
Existing energy operations in other parts of Alaska boast an excellent environmental and safety record.
ANWR development enjoys steady support from Kaktovik, a 250-person town situated within ANWR’s coastal plain.
In November testimony before the U.S. Senate, Kaktovik local administrator Matthew Rexford stated, “We do not approve of efforts to turn our homeland into one giant national park, which literally guarantees us a fate with no economy, no jobs, reduced subsistence and no hope for the future of our people.”
Tomorrow’s oil will come from new wells and new regions, making today’s resource legalization imperative. The Obama-era keep-it-in-the-ground oil strategy is over. We will not stay at home or resort to (inferior) mass transit or electric vehicles.
Robert L. Bradley Jr. is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Energy Research.