Issues & Insights

It’s Time to Expand Oil Production in Alaska

Although America is becoming increasingly energy independent, it’s still vulnerable to political upheavals. As a case in point, the Venezuelan political crisis cut off shipments to Gulf Coast refineries specially designed to process the heavy crude imported from Venezuela into gasoline. That’s causing plenty of pain at the gas pump for American families. Combine that with recent sanctions on Iranian oil exports, which sent reverberations through the global oil market, and it’s clear oil prices at home aren’t poised to decrease anytime soon. 

Clearly, America has more work to do to insulate itself from political disturbances abroad that pose challenges to our energy security.

One of the easiest and most efficient ways to secure America’s growing energy needs is by tapping into more domestic sources. One such source is adjacent to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a land mass in Alaska that’s been left largely untouchable to oil production since 1980. On the northern end of this mass is a 2,000-acre strip of land called the “Coastal Plain.” This small strip — roughly the size of Washington, D.C.’s Dulles Airport — has plentiful oil reserves ready to be tapped. 

Unfortunately for Americans and Alaskans alike, the vast energy resources contained in ANWR’s Coastal Plain are under lock and key. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that ANWR has an expected cache of 5.7-16 billion barrels of recoverable oil. At a time when Americans are starting to feel a pinch at the pump, with the price of gas steadily creeping back up to $3 a gallon, anti-energy expansion policies like the federally mandated development moratorium of ANWR’s resources push relief for Americans out of reach.

What’s worse, these policies ignore the threats on the horizon. No one can accurately forecast America’s energy needs. The 2019 global political landscape is a powder keg. The president’s important mission to rebalance trade has predictably resulted in trade disputes, escalation of sanctions and tariffs, and frayed diplomatic relations. Now more than ever, the United States cannot afford to be in a position where bad actors can use oil exports as leverage to influence political events.

It takes time and resources for oil operations to bear fruit. That’s why the United States needs to lay the groundwork right now for oil production wherever available. According to an assessment made by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, after about 11-12 years of operation, the Coastal Plain could potentially be the source of 10% of the United States’ daily oil production. Not only would the nation gain better access to goods and services that require petroleum production, but it would also settle the country in a more secure and independent place of strength. Access to the Coastal Plain reserves guarantees a better position to protect the American people from potential threats by those who would seek to manipulate global politics via the energy sector. 

A late 2017 bipartisan decision from Congress to open the coastal plain for oil leasing was met with knee-jerk opposition from environmental groups and ideologically sympathetic politicians who wish to block virtually all new oil production expansion projects. Some presidential candidates, including Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, have co-sponsored legislation that would block drilling in the plain. Additionally, litigation will prolong the process and requirements dictated by burdensome red tape like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) could take years to complete and prevent the United States from insulating itself against outside threats.

The United States must seize the opportunity to expand its domestic energy supply and break any potential oil dependence upon unstable global regions. It’s crucial that the nation begin moving forward with production in the Coastal Plain; domestic production will increase access to services that make life better and more affordable for American families while strengthening our energy security. It’s imperative that America be insulated from disruptive oil market shocks and hostile oil-producing countries that routinely use their reserves as a weapon to bully the rest of the world. 

Horace Cooper is a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research, co-chairman of the Project 21 National Advisory Board and a legal commentator.

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