Solid Alaska infrastructure projects balance environmental stewardship with responsible development

November 9, 2023 4:00 pm
This map, taken from the supplemental environmental impact statement for the Ambler Road project and published by the Bureau of Land Management on Oct. 13, 2023, shows the three primary alternatives for the project, not including the no-build alternative. (Bureau of Land Management image)

This map, taken from the supplemental environmental impact statement for the Ambler Road project and published by the Bureau of Land Management on Oct. 13, 2023, shows the three primary alternatives for the project, not including the no-build alternative. (Bureau of Land Management image)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Alaska must cease its resource development opportunities because we are destroying the planet in the process.

This old argument is once again on full display in the recent opinion piece by Homer’s Marilyn Sigman. In her nearly 800-word attack on Alaska’s economy and Gov. Dunleavy, Sigman deployed fear tactics at three projects critical to Alaska’s future: the Ambler Access Road, the 800-mile liquified natural gas pipeline (AKLNG), and the Manh Choh gold development.

In her attack on the ‘bad carbon math’ allegedly shown by project supporters, Sigman conveniently forgot a few critical details around each opportunity.

First, there is widespread support for each from government leaders, organized labor and private-sector businesses. Second, regarding the Ambler and AKLNG projects, bipartisan congressional and presidential authority are granted, including from Democrats. Third, and most importantly, each would bring much-needed regional jobs, revenues and enhanced energy security to our state and nation.

The Ambler project will hire nearly 1,000 full-time workers, with a local hire preference in-place through the developers’ relationships with regional and village Native corporations. The AKLNG project will add hundreds to private-sector oil and gas jobs, adding to the one-sixth of all Alaskans already working for the oil and gas industry. Manh Choh will keep hundreds of employees working, with approximately 100 new truck drivers joining the mine’s workforce.

The Ambler Access Project, a private, 211-mile road to the Ambler Mining District that has been authorized under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA). Accessing the world-class mineral deposits throughout the district will enhance the domestic supply chains for ‘green’ energy components, a major goal of the Biden administration. Ignoring the strategic importance of the project is a move only eco warriors would try. The widespread support for this project and its previous authorization should trump climate positioning every time.

Likewise, the AKLNG project incurs Sigman’s wrath because its construction and ongoing operation would generate a carbon footprint. Maybe she has conveniently forgotten that Cook Inlet gas currently powers her Homer lifestyle, including her ability to write her anti-development points. Physics, economics and logic say the Railbelt will never be able to achieve power and heat from renewable energy sources at any significant levels, the AKLNG pipeline is necessary for families and businesses for ongoing power production. The North Slope has enough natural gas to provide the Railbelt with decades of capacity, as well as provide exportable LNG to Asia and Pacific countries. Even the eco-centric Biden Administration understands this, as it has provided the project with federal loan guarantees.

While the Manh Choh project may not have the strategic energy security importance of the two projects above, the regional jobs it is creating in Interior Alaska are significant. Sigman’s argument that trucking the ore from the mine to its processing facility is bad has been used by project opponents since the plan was announced. However, the plan was adjusted throughout the process, as the developer listened to opponents, and the overall plan passed environmental and regulatory reviews. Forcing an onsite processing facility would make the project economically infeasible, thereby denying hundreds of families throughout the area financial stability.

The green utopia envisioned by leading environmentalists is simply not grounded in reality, a lesson our friends around the world are learning the hard way. After previously announcing plans to be carbon free by 2045, Germany recently announced the restarting of coal plants to ease the energy crunch because of the ongoing war in Ukraine. If Sigman and others had their way, we would have no carbon, and – because Alaska will never be able to be run exclusively on wind, solar or other renewables – no heat or electricity either.

While it might be politically convenient in today’s environmental narrative to bemoan projects as ‘carbon bombs,’ it is equally irresponsible to do so. It is too bad that articles like Ms. Sigman’s overlook economic benefits and both national and energy security implications, while attempting to scare Alaskans into opposing solid projects that balance environmental stewardship with responsible development at every turn.


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Rick Whitbeck
Rick Whitbeck

Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska state director for Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs and opportunities.