- - Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Although a lifelong Pennsylvanian and not accustomed to the recent incursion of frigid air from up north, I have a big soft spot in my heart for Alaska.

In the summer of 1977, I began my professional career in atmospheric science on the icy shores of the Chukchi Sea — 160 miles above the Arctic Circle. I was hired by the RCA Service Co. to be a civilian weather observer at a lonely Air Force base in Cape Lisburne, Alaska.

Now, nearly 37 years later, I long to see this truly wild and wonderful state continue to prosper as not just a terrific employment or tourist destination, but as an even bigger energy lifeline to the lower 48, as well.

Alaska’s frozen frontier of spectacular natural beauty is also home to copious energy reserves. Americans should enjoy the grand nature of Alaska, while also benefiting from its bountiful resources.

Over the years, a successful balance between energy needs and a clean environment has been demonstrated, thanks to phenomenal advances in natural-resource extraction and contaminant-control technologies.

Yet, activist environmentalists and activist courts seem obstinate when it comes to dealing with experienced energy developers, like Royal Dutch Shell.

Shell was planning to continue conducting exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast later this year. However, the company has postponed its plans because of a decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to Shell’s Chief Executive Ben van Beurden in a conference call with investors on Jan. 30 (published in Oil & Gas Journal), “[W]e are frustrated by the recent decision by the [court] in what is a six-year-old lawsuit against the government … . The obstacles that were introduced by that decision simply make it impossible to justify the commitments of cost, equipment and people that are needed to drill safely in Alaska this year.”

Sen. Mark Begich, Alaska Democrat, said of the decision, “It is simply unacceptable that judicial overreach is getting in the way of letting Alaskans develop our own natural resources.”

Admittedly, Shell has had to deal with significant physical challenges operating in one of the most hostile environments on earth. Still, the company has the resources and the ability to do right by the planet and its people while turning a nice profit for itself and its shareholders with a successful operation.

It’s the profit motive that seems to irk activists the most. Yet that irking appears to be more ideological than rational. Unfortunately, ideology for true eco-believers trumps objectivity.

Natural resource exploration and development are key to national independence. However, for the United States, it’s more than merely energy independence. We could become a major supplier of fuel to the rest of the world.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, we have already become the world’s largest petroleum and natural gas producer. Furthermore, the International Energy Agency predicted in 2012, the United States would become a net oil exporter by 2030.

The nation is estimated to possess a dominant percentage of the world’s oil shale energy reserves. By adding such a huge amount of fuel to an already plentiful supply of oil, and with our leadership in coal and advancements in nuclear power, and solar and wind energy, the future certainly looks bright for us.

However, will we be smart enough to maintain our energy superiority? Only time will tell, with decisions in Alaska and continued approvals of the Keystone XL pipeline being the bellwethers.

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