Alaska has long been a hotbed of support and opposition over oil and gas drilling — an essential resource blamed for harming wildlife and the environment. Now, the Biden Administration has taken a position, setting out to prohibit new leases and thus ban production in much of a 23-acre area.
Offshore drilling opponents say if those resources remain in place, it will spawn the greater use of cleaner alternatives — resources that will create new jobs and help fight global warming. Proponents of production, however, counter that the worldwide oil demand is rising and that exploration would increase economic output and energy security in this country.
The proposal “would discourage investment on the North Slope by adding more layers of permitting requirements and restrictions, even for existing leases,” Erec Isaacson, the president of ConocoPhillips Alaska, told RigZone. But the oil executive adds that previously approved sites are unaffected by the declaration. That includes the 600-million-barrel Willow oil project.
Spain’s Repsol and Oil Search also have projects in this area. The idea behind permitting offshore drilling in the Arctic Oceans is to unleash a wave of investment that would tap into potentially rich oil and gas deposits. An analysis by the Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure said that offshore drilling off the coast of Alaska would spur $6.3 billion in infrastructure development.
Oil and gas companies want access to the Arctic because it is flush with those resources, although much of the supply is in treacherous conditions. The American Petroleum Institute says that the technology to drill successfully is available today — and that developers could harness much of the oil and gas from shallow waters.
Environmentalists Say Producers Will Come Up Empty
In some corners, though, that region may be a bust. Consider that BP has left the state, which had drilled some wells in the 1980s that came up empty. However, those testing sites were a random sample and not necessarily indicative of what resources lie beneath the total area.
Alaska’s Congressional Delegation sent a letter last month to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) requesting an 80-day extension to the current comment deadline for the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rule to impose sweeping restrictions across the affected 13.1 million acres.
“Our initial review has convinced us that BLM’s proposed rule fails to reflect the balance between oil and gas development and the protection of ecological and cultural values …,” write Alaska’s two Republican senators and its Democratic representative in the letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland.
The proposal impacts the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, which is on the state’s North Slope. It is owned by the U.S. government and managed by the U.S. Department of Interior and the Bureau of Land Management. The proposal authorizes the government to review the site every five years to ensure it is managed correctly and for the safety of wildlife and natural habitat.
Environmentalists say that the ecological risks are too high, noting that not only does sensitive sea life exist there but also that any spillage would be hard to clean up given the icy conditions.
“We can’t be so laissez-faire about how we regulate oil and gas operations moving forward,” said Athan Manuel, director of the Sierra Club’s Lands Protection Program, in the Rigzone piece.
The U.S.-controlled portion of the Arctic holds 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The Minerals Management Service has said that altogether, 86 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas lie within the U.S. areas of the Gulf of Mexico, Arctic Ocean, and Atlantic Ocean.
The Arctic region is not just a breeding ground for wildlife but also for political discord over this oil-and-gas-rich land. While those dynamics have kept producers at bay, today, those drillers are more responsive to the economic threats — and to the risk that such development would have on their businesses.