When it comes to oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), the decades-long debate has always centered around the question” “Should we drill?” As mayor of Alaska’s North Slope Borough, which includes ANWR, I propose that a more appropriate question is: “Why haven’t we drilled yet?”
A fragile economy
Prior to the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in the late 1960s, our Arctic villages lived in third-world conditions. There was no running water and no sanitation systems. We had high unemployment, little prospect for economic development and were heavily dependent on government programs for minimum levels of education, medical care and other basic services.
Following the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in the 1970s, oil production at Prudhoe Bay stabilized the region’s economy. The industry provided our people with jobs, schools, local governments and modern amenities considered ordinary in the rest of the country.
We’ve come a long way since resource development began powering our region, but we still have a long way to go. In my home town of Utqiaġvik (Barrow), a gallon of milk costs $10 and a gallon of gas is nearly $7. Unemployment sits at twice the national average and, unless you count snow machine trails, our villages remain without an interconnected road system.
Meanwhile, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline has seen its throughput decline nearly 40 percent over the last decade and is only one-third full today. For our eight villages, which rely more than 95 percent on oil and gas revenues to support basic public services, the need for new oil in the pipeline is very real, and ANWR could be a big part of the solution.
A history of broad support
Alaskans have long supported opening a small slice of ANWR to drilling. Since 1980, when Congress set aside the 1002 area for its oil and gas potential, numerous statewide polls have demonstrated Alaskans’ unwavering desire to explore there. During that same time period, every single Alaska governor – Republican, Democrat and Independent – has supported drilling in the 1002, as has every one of our Congressional delegates.
In the North Slope Borough, the majority of local, tribal and regional leadership want it open. And most importantly, so does the majority of residents from the Village of Kaktovik – the only people living within the 1002 coastal plain of ANWR – support oil and gas development there.
Plainly put, the people who stand to be most impacted by development at ANWR widely support drilling in the refuge.
No better place to drill
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, fossil fuels will continue to supply three-quarters of the world’s energy use through at least 2040. Americans can either stop driving cars, flying airplanes and heating our homes; or we can continue to make progress with renewables, while also fulfilling our nation’s considerable need for oil and gas by developing new resources and ensuring they’re produced in the most environmentally responsible manner possible.
Permitting requirements for the oil and gas industry in Alaska are among the strongest in the world. Development of the oil and gas resources in the northwestern corner of ANWR would be subject to regulations that far exceed those of other states and, certainly, other countries. Conversely, by preventing development within the refuge, we will simply push production to countries and regulatory jurisdictions with little environmental oversight.
Finally, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System – located less than 100 miles to the west of the refuge – already provides the infrastructure and capacity needed to bring Arctic oil to market, requiring considerably less construction and development than other known super-large oilfield finds. What a foolish waste of infrastructure it would be for America to allow TAPS to run dry now.
Prioritize the people
We should not have to apologize — and frankly will not, apologize — for asking Congress to approve drilling in an area of ANWR specifically set aside for its oil and gas potential. We also will not apologize for supporting responsible resource development in our region in order to provide a sustainable economy for our communities.
It’s time we start prioritizing the people of the Arctic along with the region’s land and animals. If we do that, the decision to drill in ANWR becomes an easy one. We can protect the polar bears, the caribou and the people. And we can drill.
Harry K. Brower, Jr. is mayor of the North Slope Borough of Alaska, America’s farthest north municipal government. He is also past director of the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management and chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.