As we take baby steps into 2013, we should really go easy on ourselves and each other by not expecting too much. To be sure, there are some expectations we need to bring along into the new year: demanding vigilant responsibility over how our natural resources are extracted and keeping an ear open to the discussions on oil and gas issues.
In Alaska, we don’t really have much to complain about – unless we just want to complain. Our bank accounts are flush, while other states struggle just to keep the lights on in public offices. Our wildlife is abundant. And while the salmon runs might not be what they used to — or what we think they ought to be in certain places, but most people weren’t deprived when the State opened the dip net fishery and Bristol Bay runs remained strong.
Alaskans continue to be some of the most fortunate people on earth, boasting of clean air, stupendous views and streaking northern lights. We enjoy the elbow room of a state that’s population remains small in comparison to the vast territories it encompasses. Moose continue to walk among us, and a stunning number of birds faithfully return from afar, welcoming spring to Kachemak Bay shores every season.
And yet, dramatic changes seem to be on the way. Many of those changes stem from natural gas and oil issues, both as a state and as a nation. International pressures and competition also come into play. Just last week, Russia’s first 24/7 English-language news channel “Russia Today,” reported that their country agreed to waive all export taxes for new Arctic shelf exploration projects to encourage investment.
The Russian government’s plan is to provide tax breaks for exploration projects that last five to 15 years. Experts suspect that many of Russia’s oil fields, discovered in the Soviet Era, will run dry in the coming decades. According to the Russia Today article, this will subsequently cause the country’s oil output to drop substantially.
Prior to the new tax break, only companies with more than five years of experience could take part in shelf exploration. Russia is now removing that requirement.
Another change representing a challenge to Alaska is the activity in our own Arctic waters. Regardless of your stance on global warming and climate change, there’s no ignoring the melting ice that has opened shipping lanes and impacted sovereignty issues. All this at a time when America still has not signed onto the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The shrinking Arctic ice also opens a number of opportunities for more drilling of oil and gas in offshore waters. A quick glimpse back to 2010’s devastating blowout at the Deepwater Horizon platform in the Gulf of Mexico is compelling evidence that offshore drilling is a practice that has yet to be perfected — anywhere. That includes Alaska, an area once considered the “end of the earth.” In terms of knowledge and experience, Alaska has very little on offshore Arctic drilling.
Closer to home, drilling in Cook Inlet has been encouraged as a way to stave off our own approaching fuel shortages. And utility professionals are the ones screaming a loud message now – not just politicians.
Matanuska Electric’s chief is the latest to join the fray, contending that MEA won’t be able to supply the energy needed for heating homes and buildings in the vast Mat Su Valley without soon importing natural gas.
All of these pressures have the potential to alter our fortunate status as Alaskans in ways we might not like. There are plenty of issues and events that impact our lives that we have absolutely no control over. But there are still a few things out there that we, as a people, can affect change. And an informed people is a people able to react appropriately to those changes.
Perhaps that’s the best message we can give one another for 2013: Be involved.
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