To Cope with Rising Seas, Alaska Gov. Suggests Drilling More Oil

Gov. Bill Walker says the state needs money to help coastal villages. But most of Alaska's budget comes from oil.

by / October 15, 2015

As rising sea levels threaten coastal Alaskan villages — a partial product of burning fossil fuels, warming the ocean and melting ice sheets, according to multiple government and scientific agencies — the state’s governor wants to raise money to cope with the consequences by drilling for more fossil fuels.

Alaska Gov. Bill Walker told the BBC this week that the state needs more money to help coastal villages threatened by rising sea levels. One of those villages is Kivalina, a tiny community contained on the tip of a spit of land extending out into the ocean in the northern part of the state. Earlier this month, the Arctic Newswire reported that the ocean had suddenly begun eating away at part of the shore, moving the sea 10 feet closer to the town’s airport.

Walker told the news service that it’s the state’s responsibility to help relocate the town, as well as about 11 other villages that face similarly dire threats from the tide. But about 90 percent of the state’s discretionary revenue comes from the oil industry, which has taken a hit since the price of crude plummeted rapidly in mid-2014.

Production of oil in the state’s North Slope has also been dropping precipitously. According to a state budget website, production has declined about 33 percent since 2011. The state pulled in $7.2 billion in revenue from the oil industry this year, down from a peak of $9.2 billion in 2012.

The Trans Alaskan Pipeline is only carrying about 25 percent of its capacity at the moment, according to the BBC.

Walker said that the state should open up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an area long contested for oil drilling because of its resident caribou population. Multiple environmental advocates, including the indigenous Gwich’in people who live in the area and depend on caribou for food, told the news service that the state should leave the area’s oil alone.

The U.S. has set renewable energy, fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction goals ahead of the 21st Conference of Parties summit in Paris this December, where world leaders will gather in hopes of signing the first universal climate pact. Meanwhile, car companies are developing more vehicles that rely less — or not at all — on oil-based fuel. While Nissan, Chevrolet and Tesla churn out electric cars, Toyota announced this week a goal to cut 90 percent of its vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century. Toyota, instead of betting on electric, is pursuing a strategy more based on hydrogen fuel cells that work by combining oxygen in the air with hydrogen and produce zero greenhouse gases.