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It’s ‘Go Time’ on Arctic energy development

Posted: September 20, 2011 - 8:38am

As Congress continues to work on job creation and deficit reduction this fall, development of Alaska's Arctic energy resources stands out as a way to tackle both challenges at once. Although I have often criticized the "whack-a-mole" regulatory hurdles Alaska has faced for years, recent plan and permit approvals, as well as statements and visits from federal Cabinet members hold promise for real progress over the next several months and years.

After 40 years with a singular focus on development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge--which I support--with little progress, Alaska now can look forward to development across the Arctic. By the end of 2012, I firmly believe Alaskans will see wells drilled in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), Beaufort Sea or Chukchi Sea.

Every summer brings a steady stream of high level officials to Alaska, but the convergence of three key Obama Administration officials this summer bodes well for Arctic development. Within one week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Army Corps of Engineers Assistant Secretary Jo-Ellen Darcy and Coast Guard Commandant Robert Papp toured Alaska's Arctic and listened to Alaskans about the opportunities to create thousands of jobs and new revenue by developing our oil and gas resources. Just a week later, NOAA Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco also toured Alaska. These four hold the keys to Arctic development, and I was pleased they accepted by invitation to visit and see the opportunities first-hand.

Fortunately, Alaskans can make a strong case for using those keys to unlock Alaska's energy resources.  We know we can do it safely and responsibly; it will create tens of thousands of desperately needed jobs across the country; and it will put much-needed new revenue into federal coffers.

First, we can develop Alaska's Arctic energy resources responsibly. People are right to demand oil companies use the best technology and we impose strict environmental standards to prevent oil spills. Last year's tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico was a wake-up call for everyone. The companies working to develop offshore resources in Alaska were already setting higher standards for themselves than required, but have ramped up even more so now.

Second, jobs, jobs, jobs. Alaskans know what a boom feels like. North Dakota is feeling its own job boom right now. Developing Arctic oil and gas resources would create a jobs boom not only at home in Alaska, but across the country. A Northern Economics- UAA Institute for Social and Economic Research study estimated over 54,000 jobs would be created nationwide by Beaufort and Chukchi seas development.

If the Army Corps of Engineers this fall greenlights Conoco-Phillips' CD-5 project to drill in the NPRA - which I believe they will - more than 400 jobs would be created during construction alone and hundreds of support jobs later. While most of these jobs are years out, Arctic development is creating jobs right now. During a roundtable discussion with Secretary Salazar, Alaskans highlighted just some of those immediate jobs including the 400 jobs in Washington to upgrade the Kulluk drilling unit and the 1,000 jobs in Louisiana to build a new Arctic supply ship.

Third, with a national debt exceeding $14 trillion and climbing, we must find new revenue sources. A recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce report estimates expanding production on federal lands could raise more than $200 billion in new revenues. The Northern Economics study puts the federal revenues from Beaufort and Chukchi development at more than $160 billion.

Moving ahead on Arctic development now would be an easy hat-trick for the Obama Administration. Over the next three months, the Administration will make "go or no go" decisions on CD-5, Beaufort and Chukchi. With tremendous job and revenue benefits, it's clearly go time.

Mark Begich represents Alaska in the U.S. Senate.

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