Point of View: Environmental emperors with no clothes

Just before President Biden approved the Willow Project, a couple of environmentalists and an oil industry representative debated the pros and cons of the project on KSKA Public Radio.

The environmentalists complained that the production and combustion of all that oil would release about 239 million metric tons of climate pollution over 30 years.

While true, here is the thing: According to a Greenpeace Canada publication, published 17 May, 2021, “The amount of climate-polluting greenhouse gases emitted per barrel of Canada’s Tar Sands oil can be 30% higher than conventional oil.” (310 million metric tons for the same amount over time.)

Willow is low-sulfur light conventional oil. Bottom line: Oil remaining in the Canadian tar sands will never run out. Canadian tar sand oil will fill any market demand we don’t fill with lighter oil. Weaning ourselves off of our fossil fuel addiction is going to take a while. Until then, we are going to burn oil from somewhere. Far better we burn more Willow light and less Canadian tar. The environmentalists know that part, but they didn’t bother to mention it. Read Greenpeace’s article.

Arguing in favor of Willow was Kara Moriarty, president & CEO of the Alaska Oil & Gas Association. Moriarty was equally pontificating with no clothes. As she always does, over and over, she said how expensive it is to explore and drill, and produce on Alaska’s North Slope.

On one hand, it does take deep pockets to play in the North Slope big leagues. But here is the thing: What Moriarty knows, but fails to ever mention, giant pools of oil, like Willow and Prudhoe, pools where drillers stick a pipe in the middle of the pool and let it flow, AKA the sweet spot, are no longer found in the Lower 48.

Fracking oil from rock is all that’s happening in the Lower 48. It easily requires 100 or more fracking wells to match the big prize of one good North Slope well. The cost of producing a barrel of Prudhoe’s oil and delivering it to a West Coast refinery through a paid-for pipeline is approximately one half of what it costs to frack a barrel of Texas crude from a Texas field, and deliver it to a Texas refinery.

Bottom Line: When found, the giant pools of oil on Alaska’s North Slope are enormously profitable, and because of people like Moriarty, Alaska, and you, have never received a fair share of those profits.

Ray Metcalfe rough-necked and drilled on the North Slope in the early 1970s. He was in the Legislature in the 1970s and 1980s. He chaired the House State Affairs Committee and co-authored the legislation establishing the investment strategy for Alaska’s permanent fund, and he was the former legislator whistle-blower that brought down Veco owner Bill Allen’s bribery scheme and put Bill Allen and six legislators in jail. He lives in Anchorage.