Opinion: Developing arctic resources will put Americans to work

By Alaska Governor Sean Parnell
Special to the Houston Chronicle

The United States begins a new energy era, one that will play out for decades and has already put thousands to work, even before a single oil well has been drilled.

A 22-ship fleet is en route to Arctic waters to begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, an important step toward securing our nation’s energy security.

Energy security doesn’t just put our oil in a pipeline; it puts Americans to work, and it does so years before oil hits the market.

It could be 10 more years before Shell Oil will produce oil from the Chukchi and Beaufort. Even so, Americans are already working across the nation and will be kept busy through the interim.

Shell’s preparations created high-paying jobs from New England to the Gulf Coast and the Pacific Northwest, in addition to Alaska’s urban centers and remote Arctic communities.

With our nation’s unemployment higher than it was in January 2009, this development cannot be overlooked.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the “labor participation rate” is at its lowest point in a decade. Many who wish to work have simply given up looking for a job because of our nation’s persistent economic stagnation.

By unlocking our country’s offshore resources, we can open new opportunities and take on leadership responsibilities as an Arctic nation.

We have nearly 1,000 miles of Arctic coastline. It is time that America starts acting like an Arctic nation by developing our resources and our infrastructure.

The economic and workforce development implications reach well beyond Arctic communities in meeting demands of an increasingly competitive and complex world.

Shell’s project alone could create 50,000 new jobs that would keep people employed for the next five decades.

Half of those positions would be in Alaska, and the rest would be scattered throughout our nation, as these work force examples from recent Arctic leases show:

1 New Orleans-based Edison Chouest built an oil spill response vessel and an ice breaker, collectively worth $350 million. Edison Chouest and a partner completed a 70,000-square-foot aviation center on Alaska’s North Slope, and trained Arctic residents to work on its ships.

1 Superior Energy Services in Houston built a spill containment system for Shell’s Arctic operations. The barge holding this system will be one of 20 vessels supporting drilling operations of two rigs.

1 In Seattle, work crews finished rig preparations. Shell poured more than $200 million into the local economy. Should Shell advance the project, the Puget Sound could become a decades-long transportation hub for Alaska’s North Slope.

In Alaska, resources fuel a diverse economy: Transportation companies move supplies and employees, designers make specialized survival suits and equipment and educators teach cultural awareness of our indigenous people. Having invested nearly $4.5 billion into leases and local economies already, Shell is poised to explore the estimated 27 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil awaiting development beneath shallow waters (about 150 feet deep) of Alaska’s Outer Continental Shelf. By comparison, Alaska’s North Slope has produced more than 16 billion barrels of oil in the past 35 years.

Shell isn’t the only company active in America’s Arctic; others soon will follow, because the United States sits on one of the largest untapped, technically recoverable Arctic resource areas, and Alaska has some of the most robust environmental standards of any region in the world.

Any conversation about the Arctic must include Alaska’s resources. Our state is America’s Arctic energy breadbasket.

Domestic production enhances our nation’s energy security and grows America’s economy by attracting private investments. Billions of dollars get spread throughout the nation and put people to work, thanks to the responsible resource development practiced in our state for nearly four decades.

Energy exploration and production is a proven jobs formula. At a time of consistently high unemployment, massive government budget deficits and shrinking household incomes, it’s a formula we can build upon.

Parnell is governor of Alaska.