America needs more oil, and we just found plenty. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) recently published its “Circum-Arctic Resource Appraisal: Estimates of Undiscovered Oil and Gas North of the Arctic Circle,” and this first-ever assessment of the entire Arctic region estimates are that it contains 134 billion barrels of oil and other liquid fuels. And we don’t have to wait for Russia or other Arctic nations to start drilling, as Alaska turns out to be the single most promising part of the region, with offshore and onshore resources of 40 billion barrels – 67 years worth of current imports from Saudi Arabia. And the study did not count already-known reserves of oil.
The “drop in the bucket” crowd will have a very hard time convincing anyone that this is not enough energy to make a difference, though it will take a number of years to bring it online. Right now, the biggest obstacles are the federal restrictions. Some areas, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, are explicitly off limits. Others, like the Beaufort Sea and Chukchi Sea, the waters north and west of Alaska, are hobbled by environmental activist lawsuits that can drag out for years.
The first step in determining a sound Arctic energy policy is to determine if the resources are there and substantial enough to go after. That question has been clearly answered by this study. The next is to fashion a sensible policy to access this energy that streamlines or eliminates the current impediments. It is Congress’ turn to do that. If it doesn’t, then the good news from this study will have been for naught.