The Fight Over Alaska’s “Big Oil”

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Wednesday, January 31, 2018


After the largest reformation of the United States Tax Code in 31 years, The Alaska Native Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has finally been approved to drill oil in the Coastal Plain. This is great news for coastal villages, as this new development will boost their economy.

The opening of ANWR for oil drilling has been an issue that Alaskan legislators have fought over for the past 40 years. Senator Murkowski said in a news conference, “[W]ith passage of this tax bill, with passage finally almost 40 years later, to allow us to open up the 1002 area, this is a bright day for Alaska, this is a bright day for America!”

This achievement has been fought for since the early 80s by one of Alaska’s most well-known Senators, Ted Stevens. Stevens was known for his fight to open ANWR, something 70% of Alaskans has seen as appropriate by furthering the exploration for drilling oil. According to a KTUU report from December 2nd by Kara Moriarty, a spokesperson with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association stated, “The U.S. Senate’s decision to include 2 leases sales in the coastal plain of ANWR in its tax reform bill is welcome news for the 70 percent of Alaskans who have supported development in the area specifically set aside for oil and gas, the ‘1002 area’, for decades.”

According to the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, oil and petroleum jobs consist of more than one-third of all jobs in Alaska, making this opportunity one that has potential to bring thousands of jobs to the rural villages of Alaska like Kaktovik. One of the largest oil fields in North America is currently Prudhoe Bay, with four of the top 10 oil fields being on the North Slope.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the 1002 area has the potential of producing anywhere from 4.3 to 11.8 billion barrels of oil. Before 1976, the Alaska personal income tax rate was 14.5% making it the highest in the nation.  Ever since the TAP was first introduced in 1977, Alaska has only had to rely on taxes from oil production and shipment. Due to the development and production of Prudhoe Bay and now the 1002 Area, this has enabled Alaska to be one of seven states that does not have an income tax. Among these other seven states are some of the heaviest oil producers in the United States such as Texas, Alaska, and Wyoming.

Despite the countless benefits that will come to Alaska from the development and opportunity that comes with this step, there is still a small group of people who do not support this due to minuscule problems that pertain to the Porcupine Caribou herds and their breeding grounds. It’s rumored that with this expansion, the numbers of these caribou herds will be either wiped out or decrease in numbers. Totaling approximately 200,000, the Porcupine herd, named for one of the rivers it crosses during its migration, usually moves to ANWR’s coastal plain to give birth to around 40,000 calves each year. In an article from Roll Call, different perspectives from various Senators have been offered on this issue.

“I think special places that are recognized by the international community should be preserved, and I appreciate their support for that,” Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the committee, told Roll Call in response to Canada’s opposition. But for Alaska’s Energy and Natural Resources chairwoman, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, oil development activities can successfully coexist with limited impacts to wildlife — as shown by the state’s nearly 40-year foray into oil drilling. “Keep in mind, the caribou that are up in the region, we have seen that herd grow dramatically since we began producing oil in the ’70s,” the Alaskan Republican told reporters. “Back in the ’70s, we were looking at a herd over 5,000, now we are about 22,000. That number comes and goes, but, in fairness, we have not seen a reduction in the numbers of the caribou. If anything, they have increased dramatically, and I think people will hear that.” 

While this is a credible reason for the most part as to why the 1002 area should not be developed, it is also worth noting that 60% or 222,000,000 acres of land in Alaska is owned by the Federal Government, making it the largest owner of land in Alaska. Of this, 157,000,000 acres have been put aside as National Parks due to the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act signed into law by Jimmy Carter in 1980. ANWR will give Alaska and oil companies access to 1,500,000 acres so that the economy of Alaska will see increased growth, and help to decrease not only the Alaska state debt but the national debt as well.

Derek Lewis lives in Soldotna, Alaska. He is a junior at Soldotna High School and currently serves as Alaska SkillsUSA President. Derek plans on attending UNLV and receiving a bachelors degree in Political Science and then going on to attend Law School. Derek enjoys camping during the summer, DJing and Music Production.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.


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About Derek Lewis

Soldotna High School

Derek Lewis lives in Soldotna, Alaska. He is a junior at Soldotna High School and currently serves as Alaska SkillsUSA President. Derek plans on attending UNLV and receiving a bachelors degree in Political Science and then going on to attend Law School. Derek enjoys camping during the summer, DJing and Music Production.

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