A Promising Step Forward For Arctic Drilling

David Holt President, Consumer Energy Alliance
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If the U.S., the new global leader in oil and natural gas production, stands a chance of keeping domestic energy production high and consumer costs and imports low, a recent report says it had better start utilizing its massive amount of yet-to-be-tapped oil in Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska.

The analysis, compiled by the National Petroleum Council (NPC), an advisory council to the U.S. Department of Energy comprised of individuals representing government, academia, ENGOs/NGOs, and industry, says that efforts to tap new sources of oil in the U.S. Arctic must begin now in order to ensure our long-term energy security and associated economic and national security benefits.

Considering it takes 10 to 30 years of preparation and drilling to bring oil to market, failure to explore the Arctic’s array of natural resources risks a renewed and forecasted reliance on imported oil, which would adversely affect the nation’s global competitiveness and geopolitical influence.

Thankfully, in a move that likely heartened the NPC and the authors of the new report, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) recently lifted suspensions on Chukchi Sea Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas lease sale 193. The 2008 lease sale had been hindered for years by ongoing litigation pursued by anti-development groups.

The decision, which will allow BOEM to review exploration plans for the Chukchi Sea, marks an important milestone for consumers in Alaska and across the nation and a necessary step forward in the effort to explore for and develop domestic energy resources in the Arctic’s resources-rich waters.

However, in order for consumers in Alaska and the rest of the country to realize these resources’ economic and societal benefits, the federal government must move forward in a timely manner to grant the remaining approvals and permits necessary to access these resources. BOEM must also ensure that proposed Arctic oil and gas regulations currently under consideration are developed in a way that does not inhibit the long-term feasibility of offshore energy development in the region – as restrictions imposed by the Obama Administration earlier this year in nearby parts of the Arctic have done.

The administration recently cut off access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and millions of acres offshore in the Alaska Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), the latter of which has an estimated 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s enough to create nearly 55,000 jobs and $50 billion in government revenue over the next 50 years.

These ill-advised decisions are surprising given that most Americans support more access, more production, more jobs, more economic growth, and more energy security. Significantly, as an October 2014 poll demonstrated, those who would be in closest proximity to U.S. Arctic offshore energy development – Alaskans themselves – overwhelmingly support allowing such activity to take place.

Last December, my organization, the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA), submitted more than 100,000 U.S. consumer comments in support of Alaskan offshore energy development. In addition, over the last eight months we have submitted more than 340,000 comments from Americans who have made it crystal-clear that they want the U.S. to unlock a path toward responsible offshore energy development. The Arctic, with its overflowing collection of yet-to-be-tapped oil and gas resources, is a good and necessary place to start.

Fortunately, the majority of American consumers and businesses leaders, much to the dissatisfaction of anti-energy activists, understand that energy production is not an either-or choice between economic and environmental prosperity. They know the potential risks – and sky-high rewards – associated with offshore energy production. They know we can mitigate the risks and solve the challenges linked to environmental protection and responsible energy development.

With the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council, we now have the opportunity to determine our own destiny when it comes to energy production and energy security. Let’s hope Washington gets the message – from us, the NPC, and all Americans – and provides the policy and regulatory environment necessary to support development of our offshore energy resources, including those in the Arctic.

David Holt is the President of Consumer Energy Alliance.