Explorers 2022: Open for business
Alaska’s stable financial and political environment plus longtime ESG partnerships mean strong investment opportunities
Corri A. Feige
Commissioner, Alaska Department of Natural Resources
Our resource development industry, and the corporate and financial investment needed to power it, is refocusing. Weighing environmental, social and governance, ESG, impacts is increasingly important, even as geopolitical events bring a focus back to energy security and producing energy here at home. Multinational investors are especially concerned about the impacts of development, and customers and consumers want to understand them.
Click here to subscribe to Petroleum News for as low as $89 per year.
We in government, and in industry, must be able to answer one fundamental question: Can we produce more energy, and export more energy to our allies, in a way that is sustainable? In Alaska, we know the answer is yes. In fact, our long history of success in each of these areas - environmental protection, social impact and fair governance - continues to improve.
ESG has been part of oil and gas development in Alaska since statehood. We pioneered many of these criteria before there were checklists or labels for them. Stipulations driven by state regulatory experts and local conditions, social license built on local values and consistent governance informed by local residents who live in the jurisdiction have all pushed industry in Alaska to be far more than a purely economic engine.
We have rigorous standards of review and compliance to encourage development while protecting our unique Alaska environmental and cultural values. In Alaska, ESG applies regardless of the area being developed or the size of the company. We see this focus on the North Slope, where Prudhoe Bay has been the modern anchor of our oil production, and we are pushing to attract investment for responsible exploration and development across the entire state. I, along with other state leaders, have been working to carry these messages to financial executives and policy leaders to educate them about all that we do in Alaska to achieve ESG success. Because of our commitment to protecting the environment (and corresponding improvements in technology and operations) we are confident we can continue this success as markets increasingly want to limit greenhouse gas emissions associated with secure, responsible U.S. - and Alaska - energy.
EnvironmentalAlaska has rigorous standards for environmental protection regarding methane emissions, with strict laws against waste. Venting of natural gas is not allowed, and flaring is also restricted, with strict reporting requirements and oversight. This stands in stark contrast to other development areas in North America and around the world. Fugitive emissions from well sites and infrastructure, which are also regulated in Alaska, are a concern in many places. In Alaska our producers are proactively monitoring and safeguarding against this form of waste.
Alaska has also long worked to ensure surface impacts are minimized to the greatest extent possible. This is achieved through increasingly smaller development pads that occupy significantly smaller footprints. Today entire fields can be developed from just a few gravel pads with a total footprint of a couple dozen acres. Technology and a commitment to safe, optimized operations continues to reduce this impact, tighter wells spacings and advanced drilling rigs that can now reach over 200 square miles of subsurface reservoir from a single surface location.
SocialFor those of us who live in Alaska, the social benefits of resource development are apparent and abundant. Alaska’s model for regulating and encouraging development has long been focused on local priorities and public involvement. Local communities benefit greatly from development, especially on the North Slope, through job creation in the vicinity of their communities, support for social programs and charities, infrastructure development, and direct revenue via property taxes.
Development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and in the 1002 Area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge both hold continued promise for the social and economic benefits already seen on state lands of the North Slope. We see this as an important matter of self-determination for our local communities. The North Slope Borough and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, ANCSA, corporations in the region know this well after decades of facilitating North Slope development.
On a statewide level, royalty revenues have a long history of funding Alaska’s critical public services including education, critical infrastructure and social programs in what may be the country’s most geographically unique and, in some regions, economically strained state. Alaska’s unique sovereign wealth investments, via the Permanent Fund, also shares annual dividends with all Alaskans.
GovernanceAlaska holds companies accountable. We are proud of attracting some of the most socially responsible energy companies in the world. Alaskans expect companies to protect the environment and fully comply with regulation, but also to develop cultural ties with their community and give back through impactful corporate citizenship. Not only do these companies hire local Alaskans they also attract many non-Alaskans to work here and make their home here - many of whom become lifelong residents.
Alaskans also demand a high degree of transparency and opportunity for public input in our regulatory processes. Everything from land disposals to permitting is open to public input and, if necessary, adjustment to address concerns raised by the public. Any company hoping to operate successfully here must embrace a value system that respects and protects subsistence rights and practices, honors, and works in good faith with Alaska Native landowners. They hire Alaska companies, employ a local workforce that knows how to operate safely in our unique environment and adhere to the highest possible compliance with the state’s regulatory system. Those that fail to respect this social compact simply do not last long up North.
Investment in Alaska is sustainable — economically and sociallyAs Alaska explorers and developers, you know that Alaska’s geologic potential is immense. Our recent exploration successes - even in challenging markets - have confirmed this is truer than ever. And ESG goals are baked into our resource development DNA in Alaska, providing opportunities for companies to improve the ESG profile of their portfolio by operating in Alaska’s unique setting.
In recent months, as the administration has worked to educate the financial community about how unique Alaska truly is, we found that some have policies against investing in Alaska resource development without knowing anything about our state - about us - or how we do business. They had no idea about how significant the social impact of oil and gas is to Alaskans, or how much we lose if development declines, or of the untapped natural resources still available. The anti-Arctic rhetoric is, in reality, anti-Alaskan, and we have taken steps to counter that perception. With Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s leadership, we will continue to tell our story and keep our state strong for future generations.
Energy security and new energy horizonsInternational turmoil is driving demand for increased energy security, and for diversified sources of energy. Whether derived from fossil fuels or from renewable energy sources, both policy makers and consumers are pushing for cleaner emissions profiles for the energy they use. We believe Alaska is excellently positioned to produce traditional sources of energy, like oil and gas, with an increasingly smaller footprint, and to lead the way in the production of the next generation of clean fuels, such as hydrogen and ammonia thanks to our abundance of natural gas.
Alaska’s basins could also become the premier location for carbon sequestration on the West Coast of North America. Carbon sequestration can increase the production and recovery for oil and gas reservoirs and extend the life of current infrastructure. These are natural progressions from our longstanding focus on improving ESG performance, and exciting possibilities as industry in Alaska continues to grow and adapt.
Federal actionsFederal actions can have significant impacts on development of our resources, affecting Alaska’s economy and our future. The current administration in Washington, D.C., has been taking a comprehensive approach to limit development on federal lands - despite the increasingly clear signals that these policies decrease both domestic energy security and our ability to support allies around the world, in addition to driving up consumer costs. This has largely been done through executive orders, secretarial orders and program reviews.
Because of this, our exploration and development projects have an uncertain future. This has cost hundreds of Alaskans their jobs because projects have been put on hold, possibly for several years. Materials and equipment lie unused. In the case of villages within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, it has also delayed or even jeopardized the millions in anticipated annual revenues that are due to flow into the Impact Mitigation Grant Fund from production at projects like Willow.
But the state of Alaska is standing firm on asserting its rights through Gov. Dunleavy’s Statehood Defense Initiative. We are pursuing litigation against the federal government in many areas related to resource development, such as the challenge to the federal leasing moratorium implemented on President Biden’s inauguration. We participate in every public process we can related to federal regulatory rulemaking and policy changes that may negatively affect the resource development industry in Alaska.
The future is strong for AlaskaAmidst the challenges of finding capital, federal regulatory interference and educating the markets about the actual ESG successes we see in Alaska, we have companies stepping up to the plate and seizing the opportunity to explore for resources in our great state. We are proud to have explorers like 88 Energy, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Hilcorp, Jade and Great Bear Pantheon who are actively exploring Alaska this year, and major new development projects, in Oil Search/Santo’s Pikka and ConocoPhillips’ Willow, that are continuing to progress.
We are optimistic about Alaska’s future. We have a significant record of success to build on, and our state is well-positioned to succeed in a world with increasing needs for sustainable and responsibly sourced energy. This is even more clear now that we have all been reminded how critical energy independence - through reliable domestic production - is to our economy and national security.