America First with Alaskan Oil

On his recent visit to Alaska, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke began laying the groundwork to open the 3% of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge contained in Area 1002 to oil development.  He ordered a new assessment of the area's potential oil reserves.

The most recent comprehensive study by the United States Geological Survey was completed in 1998, and its mean estimate of recoverable reserves in Area 1002 was 7.7 BBO (billion barrels of oil).  At $45 a barrel, that's $346 billion.  Most of this oil lies in the western portion, near the terminus of the Trans Alaska Pipeline at Prudhoe Bay.

Development of Area 1002 alone would fill the Alaska pipeline, currently running at 25% of capacity,  for a minimum of 10-15 years.  Additional development of the National Petroleum Reserve, Alaska could add as much or more.  And recall that this USGS survey is 19 years old.  The new, revised numbers could be eye-popping.

The impact of this development on the state of Alaska would rival that of Prudhoe Bay itself.  Revenue to the state would soar.  Instead of raiding its Permanent Fund, Alaska could add billions to its principal.  Employment would rise, and property values would recover.  It would be a boon to Alaska and its people.

But isn't the world awash in crude?   The shale revolution shows no sign of slowing down, and Russia and Saudi Arabia are cutting production in a bid to stabilize prices.  Who needs Alaska oil?

As Secretary Zinke said in Anchorage, the United States seeks not energy independence, but energy dominance.  This can be achieved by using American oil as a tool of foreign policy, as it has been for a hundred years.

Our most important ally in the Pacific is Japan, with a navy inferior only to our own.  We have a strategic interest in ensuring Japan a stable and secure energy supply.  This can be accomplished by selling it the oil from ANWR Area 1002 and NPR-A.

It's 3,600 miles from the Alaska pipeline's terminus at Valdez to Yokohama, a bit more than the trip to Los Angeles.  More important than distance is security of passage.  The seas between Alaska and Japan are under the total control of the United States Navy and its allies.  

There are no bottlenecks like the Strait of Hormuz, or the Strait of Malacca, through which most of Japan's energy imports must currently navigate.  Because it needs security of supply above all else, Japan would leap at the chance to import more Alaskan oil.

The greatest geopolitical challenge for America in the 21st century will be China.  In containing China, Japan is the indispensable nation.  Tied to one another by Alaska oil, the bond between the United States and Japan will be unbreakable.  This is in the highest national security interest of the United States.

And it is why the time is right to open ANWR.  Legislation to accomplish this can be done in a budget reconciliation bill, as was done in 1996.  But President Clinton vetoed the bill, and no serious effort has been made to open ANWR since.

Unlike the giant State of Alaska-owned field at Prudhoe Bay, all of ANWR is federal land, and if oil is found there, it will prove a bonanza for the United States Treasury.  Revenues from oil development could put a significant dent in the federal deficit.  Thus, it clearly qualifies for inclusion in a budget reconciliation bill.  The votes of only 50 senators, plus Vice President Pence, are needed for passage.

Republican Senator John McCain, a previous opponent of opening ANWR, is a defense hawk, Navy veteran, and strong supporter of our alliance with Japan.  For national security reasons, he may now take a different position.

Two other "soft" Senate Republicans are Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine.  Murkowski is an ardent supporter of opening ANWR, as are the vast majority of the people of Alaska.  Perhaps Murkowski can use her close relationship with Collins to convince her on the merits.

Democrat Senator Joe Manchin is no environmentalist, and a friend of the working man.  The development of Area 1002 would create tens of thousands of jobs and make a dent in our trade deficit.  For these and national security reasons, there may be other Democrat votes available as well.

The arguments against opening Area 1002 are rubbish.  Environmentalists call it the Serengeti of the North.  But it is almost devoid of life, as it is the most difficult environment on the planet.

In 1984, as an Alaska state senator, I was given a tour of ANWR, and I was astonished that there was any controversy over its development.  It is the most godforsaken place on Earth.

The more oil the United States produces, the more powerful it becomes.  We used the oil weapon, to great effect, in both World Wars.  Now that we're acting as though we believe in our own self-interest, we can again use our vast oil wealth in pursuit of our foreign policy interests.

This is why President Trump will open ANWR. 

Fritz Pettyjohn is a former Alaska state senator and House minority leader.  He blogs at

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