With the Murkowski administration hoping to attract greater oil and gas development to the North Slope, a big question remains.
Where will the oil and gas companies find the time to do the work?
The number of days that heavy equipment is allowed to move on the North Slope has fallen sharply in recent decades, from 200 days in 1970 to 103 last year. There is no way to argue that doesn't hurt the industry that Alaska has come to rely on.
Now comes word of a state study, backed by the U.S. Department of Energy, that seeks to increase the amount of time that heavy equipment can move over the tundra. The study could lead to a revision of the requirements that presently bar movement of some equipment until the ground is frozen to a depth of 12 inches and covered with at least 6 inches of snow.
Why is it right to take this second look? The requirements are 40 years old and lack current scientific support. Much can change over 40 years.
Critics may materialize to rail against the study, saying this is yet another way to grant the industry access at the expense of the environment. Nonsense. What's wrong with doing good science to see whether additional development, which the state sorely needs, can occur with greater speed while still causing no harm to the tundra?
Working to extend the North Slope construction season is a natural complement to other steps that have been undertaken: Gov. Frank Murkowski earlier this year signed a bill that seeks to spur development by granting tax breaks to the oil and gas companies. And the administration also has taken steps to speed the granting of project permits.
This coming research by the Department of Natural Resources is a good and necessary step to reverse an unacceptable trend: the loss of time for the oil and gas industry.
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
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