Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: Sen. Murkowski holds oil and gas development panel in Fairbanks

FAIRBANKS — U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski convened a panel of oil and gas industry stakeholders in Fairbanks on Monday to share solutions for increased economic growth in Alaska.

Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, convened the panel as a field hearing of the committee at the Fairbanks Pipeline Training Center, though she was the only senator present. Several dozen community members attended the hearing, however, many of whom organized in front of the complex before the hearing to protest the state’s and country’s continued reliance on fossil fuels.

The purpose of the hearing, according to Murkowski, was to hear from industry experts about how her committee can impact federal policy to reduce barriers to oil and gas extraction and increase resource development.

The hearing, which went well beyond the planned three hours, included testimony from 12 stakeholders in mining, petroleum and Alaska workforce development. Panelists invited by Murkowski included ConocoPhillips Alaska president Joe Marushack; Loreli Simon, of Usibelli Coal Mine; Alyeska Pipeline Service Company president Tom Barrett; AHTNA president Michelle Anderson; Arctic Slope Regional Corporation vice president Richard Glenn; Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce president Lisa Herbert; Alaska AFL-CIO president Vince Beltrami and others.

Discussion at the hearing was led by Murkowski, who directed questions to each of the three industry panels. The main complaint centered on what industry personnel described as onerous federal regulation.

Murkowski set the tone early in her opening remarks, which emphasized her desire to open drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and reduce federal restrictions on drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and other federal lands.

“Really, our hardest task is not in finding the resources or developing the know-how or recruiting the manpower needed to responsibly produce them,” Murkowski said. “Instead, it’s really overcoming the restrictions that are imposed, oftentimes by our own federal government.”

The senator asked panel members what she and others could be doing “to ensure that Alaskans are able to achieve their fullest potential with the resources that we have available to us in our state.” She paired that question with an addendum asking the petroleum panel members for examples of how the federal government is holding back development.

“How can we convey the message that it is not ironic that we want to help our people and at the same time we can care for our lands?”

Glenn responded, “Yeah, welcome to our world. So the issue at home is stark. We ask ourselves: Our grandchildren, what kind of school will they go to? Will there be reliable power in their communities? ... Things that the rest of the world takes for granted are present in each of our communities only because of the presence of development in our region. So we are open about (how) we depend on continued development for the survival of our communities.”

Glenn said he finds a key difference between the federal government’s protection of places like ANWR through “absolute protection, like putting a jar over something and never letting anything in it” and allowing the communities in the Arctic to survive and coexist with both nature and modern society in an affordable way.

“The way we’ve been able to do it at home, I think, is to create alignment. That is, we’ve invested in development in our region as an owner, a land owner and an equity owner. That way, when there’s success for the explorer there’s success for our communities’ residents,” Glenn said. “If we were just victims of development, that’s the opposite end of the spectrum ... the way we create alignment is investing in the only industry that’s been around in our region long enough to pay taxes.”

The topic of renewable energy was not seriously raised until after the hearing, when Murkowski gave members of the public a chance to place their comments on the record. About a dozen community members took to the microphone, mostly to express dissatisfaction at the lack of any renewable energy representation among the panel.

Several commenters expressed concern that Murkowski’s panel seemed to ignore the fact increased reliance on fossil fuels, while in the industry’s best interest and perhaps good for the state in the near term, would worsen the already imminent catastrophe of global climate change.

The Fairbanks Climate Coalition, several of whose members attended the hearing, released a statement critiquing the panel’s lack of renewable energy experts.

Murkowski has not been silent on the importance of renewable energy, though much of the focus she has given renewable energy sources has come due to their ability to improve economic conditions as opposed to preventing carbon emission-impacted climate change.

Princess Lucaj, an actor and writer from Arctic Village, which sits on the edge of ANWR, disagreed strongly with Murkowski and the panel regarding the role of oil and gas development in fueling Alaska’s future.

“We cannot drill our way out of the predicament we find ourselves in as a human species,” Lucaj said. “We must begin to look elsewhere to create jobs. We are suffering today because we didn’t do a good job of diversifying our economy.”

Lucaj reminded the audience that, as far back as 1990, Alaska politicians have known the state needed to diversify its interests and move, at least in part, away from its energy and economic reliance on fossil fuels.

“I feel very strongly that the problem of Alaska’s environmental and economic sustainability has been pawned off on my generation,” Lucaj said. “Why didn’t we do anything 20 years ago when we knew this was coming down the pipeline eventually?”

Murkowski’s stance breaks with that of her detractors at the meeting in that while she sees plenty of opportunity for renewable energy sources, she thinks those resources must be tempered with continued extraction of fossil fuels. Her detractors, on the other hand, view the continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels as both ecologically and economically disastrous.

Link to the original article: http://www.newsminer.com/news/alaska_news/sen-murkowski-holds-oil-and-gas-development-panel-in-fairbanks/article_cf301268-f580-11e5-8137-071029faf616.html

By:  Weston Morrow

Related Issues: Energy