Alaska‘s North Slope accounted for 25 percent of U.S. domestic oil and natural gas production in 1988, but production has plummeted because the government has largely prevented exploration for new resources. Total North Slope production fell to approximately 540,000 barrels per day in 2014, a 75 percent decrease from 1988.
Two major resource areas offer opportunity for future energy development – the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) and Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Both are examples of potentially resource-rich lands that have not been developed because of federal policies.
NPR-A was created in 1923 as a dedicated oil reserve at a time when the U.S. Navy was converting the fleet from coal to oil. It encompasses about 23 million acres and is the largest single block of federally managed land in the U.S.
The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates the reserve holds 896 million barrels of oil and 53 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. In 2013, the federal government announced roughly half of the reserve would be put off-limits to oil and gas development and to date no commercial drilling for oil and natural gas has occurred.
ANWR is about the size of South Carolina. It includes Area 1002, of which 2,000 acres – about the size of a major metropolitan airport – was set aside for potential oil and natural gas development in 1980. According to USGS estimates, Area 1002 holds between 4.3 billion and 11.8 billion barrels of oil. Actual development has been blocked by policy decisions in Washington, and in January 2015 the administration announced it would recommend that 12.28 million of ANWR’s 19.8 million acres would be placed into wilderness status, barring energy development.