The Willow project offers significant economic opportunities for Alaska’s North Slope region
By Nagruk Harcharek, Alaska Beacon
ANCHORAGE – AS WE saw last year, consumer fuel prices are top of mind for Americans, many of whom are already paying more for food, health care, and everything in between. The recent surprise production cut announcement by OPEC and its partners have rekindled concerns that Americans may once again be forced to make the difficult choice between fueling their vehicle, heating or cooling their homes, or putting food on the table.
This unfortunate scenario is of our own making. For too long, America has been reliant on mercurial international partners – many of whom do not share our human rights and environmental values – instead of domestic producers.
Thankfully, Washington is taking steps to correct this imbalance by strengthening domestic energy production, exemplified by the Biden administration’s decision last month to advance the Willow project.
The Willow project is a well-studied and considerately designed project that is estimated to produce up to 180,000 barrels of oil per day at its peak and roughly 600 million barrels over its 30-year lifespan. Oil produced on Alaska’s North Slope will help to ensure the country’s energy security and limit opportunities for foreign dictators to squeeze concessions from the United States in exchange for their resources.
After all, in 2021, America relied on Russia for 8% of our total fuel imports before banning shipments following the invasion of Ukraine. Similarly, our country trades with members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) for roughly 13% of our total fuel imports. Meanwhile, Venezuela, a country with a deeply concerning human rights track record, is courting the Biden administration to ease sanctions on the country in exchange for oil – and there are worrying signs that the White House may listen.
Willow provides an alternative to power America without benefiting countries like Russia, Saudi Arabia or Venezuela. It should be a no-brainer to liberate the United States from choosing between its energy supplies and concessions to governments with dubious track records.
Alaska has played a historic role in American energy security. And it is ready to do so again. The state’s North Slope region holds major energy reserves, including vast deposits of oil and natural gas. When responsibly developed, these resources can reduce U.S. dependence on overseas suppliers and insulate U.S. consumers from global price swings.
If, as the president said during his State of the Union Address, the United States will still need oil a decade from now, then Willow is the key to securing it.
But Willow is much more than an energy development project. It also offers a suite of environmental and economic benefits for Americans across the country and Alaska Native communities. To start, energy produced in Alaska will be held to stricter environmental standards than that produced overseas. In fact, a 2016 report by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management notes that U.S. reliance on the production and transportation of foreign oil would generate more greenhouse gas emissions than that produced domestically.
The project also offers significant economic opportunities for Alaska’s North Slope region. Over its lifetime, Willow is expected to generate hundreds of direct jobs and thousands of construction jobs, along with contracting opportunities for Alaska Native-owned businesses. The more than $1 billion generated in tax revenue for the North Slope Borough, in addition to a projected $2.5 billion to the NPR-A Impact Mitigation Grant Program, will go toward basic social and emergency services, jobs in North Slope communities, and the development of modern infrastructure in the region.
This last point is important and often lost on many non-Alaska residents. Modern infrastructure that is ubiquitous and sometimes taken for granted in the Lower 48, like running water and sewage systems, only recently reached Alaska’s remote North Slope. Tax revenue generated by Willow will ensure that more communities have access to basic infrastructure that provide long-term quality of life improvements.
As policymakers in Washington consider ways to secure America’s energy supply, it is important that they follow our state motto and look “North to the Future.” Alaska’s plentiful natural resources and thoughtfully designed development projects, like Willow, can play a key role in delivering an energy-secure future for all Americans.
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This article has been fact-checked by Arctic Business Journal and Polar Research and Policy Initiative, with the support of the EMIF managed by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
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