What's really at stake?: A chance to share energy expertise with Washington, D.C.

Posted: Wednesday, April 22, 2009

It's not every day that officials from the Outside trek all the way up to Alaska to hear what we have to say about energy -- just so long as we keep it flowing. But April 14, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar convened a public hearing to discuss his Department's five-year strategy for new offshore energy exploration. At stake was a very real chance to meaningfully impact the direction of our nation's energy and economic future.

More than folks in any other state, Alaskans know the realities involved in meeting the energy needs of our nation. That's because every man, woman, child and polar bear up here is connected in one way or another to energy production -- whether we're producing it, piping it, shipping it or cashing the annual Alaska Permanent Fund check made possible as a result of it.

Who better to advise Washington on its plans for offshore energy production than a people and place that's been doing it for decades?

Right now, Americans are sitting atop an offshore resource base the government says holds more than 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That amounts to enough energy to replace 50 years worth of OPEC oil -- nothing to sneeze at.

Unfortunately, those resources are off limits in most areas offshore, thanks to the remnants of a decades-old federal ban on exploration. Consider: Of the 14 states that border the Atlantic Ocean, not a single one produced a single drop of energy offshore last year, despite the availability of abundant natural resources.

But all that might change -- with a little help from the Last Frontier. Last year, Congress and the president lifted the three-decade old moratoria on safe energy exploration along the Outer Continental Shelf. But for any development to actually occur, the Interior Department must choose to include prospective areas in its "five-year plan" for offshore energy exploration. If it does not, there will be no production, and the nation will lose out on the jobs, revenue and economic growth we know comes from such activities.

For decades, the people of this state have been producing energy for the American people, offering up the lifeblood of our nation's economy one tanker at a time. It's time the federal government let more states in on the act. But first, they'll need someone to explain to them how it's done, how it's not and what steps are taken to ensure responsible development can co-exist with responsible stewardship.

New technologies have made exploration cleaner, safer and more efficient than ever. Footprints have been reduced, limiting environmental impact. Three-D seismic and 4-D time-imaging technologies have made finding resources easier. And equipment like storm chokes and new devices like blowout preventers are now standard operating gear.

The American people understand what's at stake. One recent poll found Americans now favor responsible energy exploration two to one. But you don't need the findings of a national poll to tell you that offshore energy exploration can be done right, all while generating thousands of jobs, billions in revenue and affordable energy for consumers. You've seen that yourself.

With an economy in peril and national unemployment approaching 10 percent, offshore energy exploration represents the best and most immediate way to generate new revenues and put millions of Americans back to work -- all without costing the taxpayers a penny.

Tom Wagoner is the Alaska senator for District Q. He lives in Kenai.

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