Posted: September 30, 2009
Yesterday at lunch, I listened to two business people talking about where the state is going. They summed up what's in store for the economy by saying, "There isn't going to be a gas line, probably no bullet line; there probably won't be a Pebble Mine or a Donlin Creek mine; and, what will happen to the Anchorage airport if the North Pole oil refinery shuts down?"
Not good. And it wasn't the first conversation like this I've heard recently.
Our economic stability relies on the oil business. Oil is where we get most of our jobs and our state revenue. If we want to make a difference about our economy, then we need to get back to focusing on oil production.
The volume of North Slope crude oil flowing down the pipeline has declined six or seven percent a year. A few years ago, it was a million barrels a day. Now, it's below 700,000 barrels a day. In less than five years, with the way things are going, oil will trickle down to below 500,000 barrels a day.
So how do we get more oil? It's going to take investment by oil-producing companies to squeeze more from existing fields and also to develop technology to safely explore both onshore and offshore prospects.
Right now, the state and even municipal governments need to send the message that we welcome investment in oil development. Whether it's in the form of talking about changes to our tax laws, permitting regulations, or even standing with the oil and gas industry on policies regarding climate change – we all need to reach out to those who work to get the oil out of the ground.
Next legislative session, we lawmakers need to make this happen. Not next year. Not next summer. But the next legislative session that starts in January. We need the public to be with us. And we need a governor who's with us.
So what about negotiations for a natural gas pipeline? Under any scenario I've seen, we're years away from realizing that long-held dream. While waiting for it to come true, we need to have a strong economy so that we are in a position of strength when negotiating necessary fiscal terms for a gas line.
To do that, our first priority right now should be on oil production. Whether you're a business person looking at your bottom line, a labor union worker looking for a good, meaningful job, or a parent who appreciates well-funded schools with good teachers – it's going to take more oil production.
Furthermore, we must address our own in-state energy needs by diversifying and making sure we don't have all our eggs in one basket. True, North Slope gas is an abundant resource, but it will be expensive energy to develop that will be paid for with high utility bills that take a bite out of our wallets.
We have to keep moving forward with things like the Susitna River or Chakachamna Lake hydroelectric projects, a plan to tap Mount Spurr's geothermal potential, alternative and renewable energy, and more.
All this is good. But our first step must be to get more oil out of the ground.