Begich Calls for Renewed Offshore Development Focus

Casey Kelly & Rosemarie Alexander, KTOO – Juneau

U.S. Senator Mark Begich is calling for a federal coordinator for the Arctic Outer Continental Shelf.  In a speech to the Alaska Legislature Tuesday, Begich said he plans to introduce legislation next week to create the office – modeled after Alaska’s federal gas pipeline coordinator.

Begich says an Arctic OCS coordinator would help develop oil and gas offshore, as well as in the National Petroleum Reserve Alaska and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The office would work across federal permitting agencies – the EPA, the US Army Corp of Engineers, and the Interior Department – that Begich says are causing heartburn for Alaska today.

“The federal OCS coordinator would work with the state of Alaska and affected local governments to streamline development in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas, which hold such promise for future oil and gas development,” Begich said.

He says his bill also would allow the creation of federal coordinators for offshore development in the Lower 48. Begich told state lawmakers Alaska is well-positioned to influence Arctic policy and should seize opportunities in the region. He said he’s already reached out to President Obama to cut red tape standing in the way of development.

“The president’s “climate czar” recently left her job, apparently correctly reading the tea leaves that cap and trade legislation is not happening,” Begich said. “Along with that I asked the president to replace the “climate czar” with a “development czar” to help focus the administration on the right priorities to our nation, on producing American energy, from American soil with American workers.”

He says the national focus on clean energy should be good news for Alaska’s proposed natural gas pipeline. But he says the state must act quickly.

“I know you are waiting for a new report about an in-state gas line and results of open season negotiations,” Begich said. “From my perspective I urge you not to wait too long.”

“Our window or opportunity may be closing and we must address the in-state energy needs of Alaska business and consumers.”

Meeting with reporters after the speech, Begich clarified that he supports both an in-state gasline and a line to the Lower 48. But he says the in-state line is needed now to provide reliable energy and stimulate Alaska’s economy.

“Because if you don’t have in-state, you can ship all the gas you want to the Lower 48, but if there’s nothing happening here economically,” Begich said.

Begich says the state needs to act fast because competition from other states where oil and gas exploration has increased recent years. But unlike Senator Lisa Murkowski, who last month urged lawmakers to approve Governor Sean Parnell’s proposed tax cuts for oil and gas companies, Begich says only small incentives are needed to spur development. In his speech he mentioned small, independent producers and international companies partially owned by European countries.

“It doesn’t take a lot of money, but just enough that they can, if it’s grant or loan or combination that they can seed off of, I think that’s a huge opportunity sitting out there,” Begich said.

Most members of Congress are in their home districts this week. Begich expects the climate in Washington to be more favorable to Alaska development when members return.

“Because they’re going to come back and they’re going to have their heads beaten in by their constituents on price of oil for heating, price of gasoline for their car, energy costs for their power for their house, and they’re going to hear this. So, for us it’s a huge opportunity right now,” Begich said.

Begich also encouraged state lawmakers to invest some of the state’s surplus in Alaska-based high-tech industries and technologies, which could leverage federal and private funds.

This was Begich’s third speech to the legislature since he took office in 2009.

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