Anchorage Daily News Editorial: Energy policy

In recent days President Obama has gotten Alaskans' attention with his encouragement of oil production in Brazil and his call for a 33 percent cut in U.S. oil imports in a decade.

Brazil? Well, OK, but if the goal is to increase U.S. domestic production, the president should first look west and north from D.C. to Alaska prospects.

Right off the top we can think of two prospects that could stand federal encouragement.

The first is to grant a permit for Conoco Phillips to build a bridge and road across the Colville River into the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Conoco and Anadarko have long sought to tap NPR-A's oil, an operation that would allow Conoco to expand its currently producing Alpine field.

The Army Corps of Engineers denied the permit, Conoco has appealed, and that appeal is under consideration.

We'd argue there's a reason it's called the National Petroleum Reserve, and also point out that it's been federal policy in the past to encourage development there in lieu of exploration on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Otherwise why sell leases in the reserve?

The second is to grant Shell a clean air permit for exploratory drilling just offshore in the Beaufort Sea in 2012. That permit has been held up by litigation.

Both of these projects have been well-vetted, and are in familiar territory for the companies involved. Shell's Beaufort exploration has the Coast Guard's blessing. There's a long way from seasonal, carefully monitored exploration to full-blown production. Let's find out what's there, and continue research to make sure exploration and any production are done safely.

Here's the rub. We can't meet ambitious goals without ambitious effort. We can't cut our oil import dependence without producing more oil in the United States.

Alaska's congressional delegation was disappointed in the president's speech, in which he made only passing mention of Alaska. Sure, it would have been nice to get the Brazil treatment, but at least we're on the president's radar.

That radar image should get sharper. If the president wants to cut oil imports by a third, Alaska clearly has a role to play, has players at the ready and a pipeline with capacity to spare. And as the president well knows, the U.S. has an economy that could stand the boost in jobs and the prospect for cheaper energy prices.

We don't have to worry about all of the nations that supply us with oil. After all, the single biggest exporter of oil to the United States is Canada, a neighbor and ally. But we stand to fortify our own security and economy with more domestic production -- even as we continue to develop alternative, renewable energy sources and figure out ways to use less fossil fuel.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski recently offered a pretty fair nutshell description of a sound U.S. energy policy -- "produce more, use less." Alaska is an obvious place to produce more.

BOTTOM LINE: President should look north to help meet ambitious energy goal.



Source: Originally Published on March 31, 2011