America's next oil bonanza

Now that Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is opening to development, you're seeing reports of its limited potential.  The media are downplaying the significance of one of President Trump's signature achievements.  They don't know what they're talking about.

When Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, it was given the right to select 103 million acres of the federal land in Alaska, 28% of the total.   Its first choice was ANWR, on the north slope of the Brooks Range.  This was based on the advice of George Gryc, who had studied the arctic slope for the U.S. Geologic Survey.  The details are in John Strohmeyer's excellent Extreme Conditions, Big Oil and the Transformation of Alaska.

But ANWR was off limits.  The Department of Defense wanted it for radar stations to detect incoming Soviet aircraft.  It became part of the North American Air Defense Command, later known as NORAD.

So we had to settle for Prudhoe Bay, just to the west of ANWR.  It all worked out pretty well for Alaskans.  Our fourth governor, Jay Hammond, managed to channel 25% of Prudhoe's wealth into the Alaska Permanent Fund.  It's now worth $66 billion, and this year, it will give $1,600 dividends to every man, woman, and child in the state.  It will also transfer $2.7 billion to the state government, which covers half the operating budget. 

How big would the Permanent Fund be if we were able to get ANWR instead of Prudhoe Bay?  We're about to find out.  But this is still federal land, not state.  So the United States Treasury will be the principal  benefactor.  As an American, I'm happy to see the money.  The poor people of Alaska will have to settle for their $66-billion nest egg.

Fritz Pettyjohn got into Alaska politics in 1978, working for the re-election of Gov. Jay Hammond.  Throughout his 27 years in Alaska, he was a Hammond man.

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