Alaskans are on the verge of seeing the oil-rich coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) opened to leasing for the first time — a three-decades-long quest that was, until now, stifled by environmentalists and the block-and-tackle tactics of opponents in Washington, D.C.
The compromise tax reform bill agreed to by Congress includes language directing the U.S. Department of the Interior to offer two lease sales in the 10-02 area of ANWR within the coming 10 years.
Our own Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young won seats on the bipartisan conference committee that successfully merged the competing Senate and House versions of tax reform and repelled attempts to strip out the ANWR provision by opponents of drilling. Sen. Dan Sullivan, while not a member of the conference committee, has been an outspoken proponent of permitting oil and gas activity on the coastal plain.
The ANWR language is one of the biggest ways lawmakers covered the costs of reducing the corporate tax rate to 21 percent and doubling the standard deduction and child tax credits.
The 70 percent of Alaskans who, like myself, support oil and gas activity in ANWR should be able to check off one of the biggest items on our Christmas lists. This is a big win that will help reinvigorate an economy in its third year of recession. ANWR is that giant box under the tree on Christmas morning, not a stocking stuffer.
We should remember to send a thank you card to President Trump, Don, Lisa, Dan and the hundreds of Alaskans who have fought long and hard to access our oil reserves under the Arctic coastal plain. The fact that Trump is in the Oval Office has been the deciding factor. Congress approved opening ANWR once before in 1995, but it was vetoed by then-President Clinton. Elections, as they say, have consequences.
President Trump is fast becoming Alaska’s new best friend. Trump and members of his administration, including Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, have thrown their support behind resource development projects here and across the nation as part of the president’s plan to make America energy dominant. In addition, Administrator Scott Pruitt’s leadership at EPA will give resource projects due process and opportunity to prove themselves rather than being mired down in the obstruction of personal opinion of mid-level bureaucrats.
In addition to ANWR, the administration has offered unprecedented access to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Opponents of drilling were quick to jump on the recent results of the Interior Department’s lease sale in the NPR-A as evidence of low industry interest in our state. The Bureau of Land Management’s offering of 16,100 square miles in NPR-A received seven bids totaling only $1.2 million. But critics ignore a key difference between NPR-A and ANWR. The geology east of Prudhoe Bay is far more favorable to finding another giant conventional oil reservoir than the western half.
By contrast, interest in state-owned lands on the North Slope in December brought in a record-breaking $21 million, or an average bid of $110 per acre. The takeaway: interest remains high in Alaska’s resources if the geology is favorable and the access is predictable.
State tax policy matters. The state has made seven significant changes to the way it taxes the oil industry in the past 12 years. Tax policy and regulatory uncertainty matters a great deal to company executives who must decide how and where to invest, especially in remote Alaska where it can take billions of dollars to develop a project.
We are mired in recession and confidence slips a little more each quarter. October marked the 25th consecutive month of job losses — the same number of months of job losses that Alaska saw during the recession of the mid-1980s. The difference this time is that we have not yet found the bottom.
Amid all the doom and gloom, there is hope. The Trump administration is setting the stage for new opportunities that could jump-start our economy.
When we look back, opening ANWR will be a lasting symbol of the Trump presidency and, hopefully, the start of a brighter future for Alaska.
If we do our part with policies that encourage investment and give industry the chance to discover new oil, we can put Alaska back on the path to a sustainable economy. We must be resolute in our support for opening ANWR to capitalize on this moment. Such a significant development would not only increase throughput in the pipeline but would also likely lead to projects in other parts of the oil patch, sparking a broader economic recovery with benefits that would be felt across the state.