Congressman Don Young enjoys a good fight. Always has.
He’s been in office since 1973 — or in oil parlance about 16.7 billion barrels of North Slope oil ago.
He won’t let up in his push to develop the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 1002 Area; and he continues to stress that the “P” in NPR-A stands for Petroleum, not Parks.
He serves on the House’s Committee on Natural Resources, chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings of Pasco, Wash.
The House recently passed Hastings’ H.R. 2231, the Offshore Energy and Jobs Act, which requires the Obama administration to create a new five-year plan for offshore energy resources.
It also means Alaska would be entitled to 37.5 percent of revenue generated from offshore development in federal waters.
The effort in the last Congress failed, but this bill passed because of more bipartisan support, Young said.
Young spoke with Petroleum News to discuss his concerns about the country’s lack of Arctic policy and strategy, and how it affects Alaska.
Petroleum News: What is your vision for an Arctic strategy?
Young: Arctic strategy of course is to reopen NPR-A and drill where the oil companies want to drill. The idea that the agency (Department of Interior) can decide which is best and which is not best for the development of oil is wrong. You take that with ANWR, you could probably put into the pipeline with what I call surface development of fossil fuels probably 2 million barrels of oil for the next 35 years or 40 years. That would be my arctic policy. The second part of my policy is the offshore drilling. Right now I’ve got Shell people here talking about what their timeframe is. We need to develop the offshore aspect of the Arctic, too, because conventional oil is huge, maybe not as large as the Gulf of Mexico, but very nearly as large. We just haven’t been able to do anything because the policy of this administration is delay until the lawsuits occur.
Petroleum News: With all of these new fields emerging in the Lower 48, do you think Alaska is being put on the backburner?
Young: Here’s the challenge: There are no elephants in the Lower 48. That last elephants are going to be offshore in Alaska, offshore in California, maybe offshore in Virginia and Florida. Ours is probably the largest. The biggest onshore, of course, is definitely in Alaska. It depends on whether you want to put that much of an effort into capital expenditure. This is a longer-term period of time. If you look at the reserves where we have the abundance, primarily natural gas, in reality, it can run out pretty rapidly. The vast quantities are not there, so you’re looking 20 to 25 years down the road, well that oil and that gas we’re finding down there, it won’t be available anymore. That’s why I think the long-term, the oil companies look upon Alaska for the elephant fields, the big fields. That’s what I think is going to happen with the Arctic.
Petroleum News: Let’s stay on shore in the Arctic and shift to ANWR. This has been a long standing fight. Why has this been so difficult?
Young: Gas was cheaper. The first time we passed this, gas was 90 cents a gallon. The panic wasn’t there. We are still at the mercy of imported fossil fuels.We probably won’t lower the cost of gasoline now, but it won’t rise again. It’s based on the world market of Brent oil and West Texas Intermediate. You’re not going to find people selling oil any cheaper or any less value. If it’s $97 a barrel, it’s going to stay at $97 a barrel, regardless of how much oil we find. We won’t have the pressure or spikes occurring when they decide to decrease production and we’re caught with our pants down again. That’s the reason I want to get more independent, so we are not jolted by these peaks and valleys of fossil fuels. I think the oil companies see that. We’ll see what happens.
Petroleum News: In the past you’ve also used workforce development or jobs as an argument for developing ANWR.
Young: I don’t know all the figures, but it’s a huge amount of jobs, but the total aspects of the jobs, the support facilities and the jobs that we create by lowering the costs of energy. We talk about a financial crisis in this country. We could have dropped the price of gasoline $1 a gallon. Think about the tax break that would be to every American citizen and how much more buying power. I listened to (President Obama) at the White House talking about his new policy and climate change. I think that is the greatest attack upon employment that I’ve ever seen. It’s about leaving people out of work. He’s got a war on coal. It’s not new war. This has been going on for a long time. Remember the acid rains and all that. We have to look at the potential Btu that comes from coal. Don’t put it off limits. They put over $100 billion in clean coal technology in the last 10 years. Think about that for a while. You say, what’s that got to do with oil? It’s got a great deal to do with oil. It’s the same molecule as oil. I listen to these pie-in-the sky, we don’t care about employment, we’ve got to save the world arguments. You’re not going to save the world, number one. Number two, you’re challenging the economic strength of the country.
Petroleum News: Speaking of Obama, what are your thoughts on his Arctic strategy?
Young: We are an arctic nation because of Alaska. The strategy we have to be aware of is the involvement in the Arctic, of the Chinese big time and the Russians big time — to some degree Iceland and others. We’re sitting here sucking our thumbs. There is no policy right now. It’s paper. We had a Coast Guard hearing today and they are talking about 15 years from now they are going to have the first ice breaker that meets the capability of the Russian nuclear ice breakers. Fifteen years. In between that we have to study, put the navigation system in so we can track every ship, know where they are going to be, have the channels laid out and quite frankly we should be developing now Arctic oil recovery systems so if there is a spill from one of the Chinese companies or one of the other Arctic carriers. The currents from the ocean do come to our shores, and we have no way to protect them and they don’t really care. We have to start thinking about that so if there is a spill we will be able to take control of it. Of course I have a different opinion with the Coast Guard. They want to own the ship. I say they can lease one and it would be a lot more economical because I don’t think Congress is going to appropriate $1 billion for a ship to be built 15 years from now. I just don’t think that’s going to happen. I’m trying to convince them to put a prospectus out there to shipyards across the country and see would a shipyard be willing to build according to spec a ship and lease it for 35 years. It’s not a new idea, but it’s not an old one, either.
Petroleum News: Do you gain a sense of hostility toward hydrocarbon development from the federal government in Alaska?
Young: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. It’s not necessarily new. We got caught in this climate change debate. It was called global warming; it’s called climate change now. Hydrocarbons have caused it. It’s all our fault. I’ve got scientists on my side of the aisle that this so called climate change is occurring, it’s going to occur. There is no way to stop it regardless of what we do. It’s not the result of burning fossil fuel. Read the Cold Sun (by John L. Casey). He actually believes with the science backing him up we are going into the beginning of a new cooling period. The Russian scientists say the same thing. We are being panicked by the Greenies and a guy like Obama who doesn’t know anything about anything when it comes to fossil fuels being an economic base. They try to frighten people that the world’s coming to the end and that is not the truth. People say how do you know? Well, do me a favor and read Both Sides of the Aisle (by Council on Foreign Relations). Unfortunately, it’s not popular today. The popular way is global warming. The scientists who disagree with it provide the same factual information, but they don’t get the time of day.
Petroleum News: So what is a solution in bridging this gap? You and your colleagues bring other members of Congress and the administration to Alaska to educate them. Is that working?
Young: It doesn’t work to the degree because of a lack of true knowledge. This will be the 13th time I will have passed ANWR out of the House. I’ve won it every time — when Democrats took control of the House, when Republicans had control of the House. I can’t get it past the Senate because they will tell you that it’s not the popular thing to do. People in New York think we will destroy all the game and the world is going to come to an end and the area is going to be destroyed because of oil development. I’m proud of what’s going on in Alaska over the development of oil 35 years ago when we had the first barrel come out of Prudhoe Bay. If you could see how they improved the technology, the footprint is about one-tenth of what it was back 35 years ago. We are not going to do the damage people say. Tell the guy in Philadelphia, New York, Miami, San Francisco, LA and the world is going to come to an end if you allow development in Alaska.
Petroleum News: Is it worth it? Is it worth this fight? Is it worth all of this effort when you keep getting shot down?
Young: I want to believe in perseverance. I’ve been in this business long enough that nothing happens overnight. It will be opened up. I just guarantee that. I’ll put it in writing and someone can open up the time capsule and when it’s open he said way back when. I’ll eventually achieve it or someone else will achieve it. You can’t leave that much oil in the ground. When the demand gets that great there will be an opening of that area. Just like when we built the pipeline. It just bothers me, the dishonesty about that area. It’s not a virgin area. It never has been. It will not hurt the so-called wildlife. Kaktovik wants to do it. The North Slope Borough wants to do it. People say it’s going to destroy the pristine area. That’s not true.
Petroleum News: Are you familiar with Gov. Parnell’s plan for ANWR that he and Commissioner (Dan) Sullivan offered in Washington last month?
Young: I think it’s a good idea. To me it really exposes the federal government. We are willing to be partners. But the federal government doesn’t want to do that. This administration doesn’t want fossil fuel development — period. But that’s what drives our trucks, our planes, our trains and our automobiles. It’s the commerce link. Until we find something that can move a truck, a car or an airplane other than fossil fuels, we’re not going to change this system if we want to keep up with the rest of the world.