Could a Trump presidency impact Alaska resource development?

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Now that Donald Trump is set to take over the White House, big changes could be coming for Alaska’s oil and gas industry. But even though Trump will see Alaska through a very different lens than Obama, a 180-degree policy shift isn’t likely to happen soon.

A view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by USFWS)
A view of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo by USFWS)

Donald Trump’s unexpected victory could change the landscape for Alaska’s oil and gas industry. Robert Dillon, communications director for Senator Lisa Murkowski’s campaign, said with Republican majorities in Congress, a Trump presidency opens up new possibilities for resource development in Alaska.

“Certainly you are in a much better starting point than you would have been under Hillary Clinton,” Dillon said.

Dillon said a big issue to watch is drilling in federal Arctic waters. Hillary Clinton opposed Arctic drilling, and in its upcoming five-year leasing plan the Obama administration may still announce it won’t include the Arctic. But one conservative group that endorsed Trump isn’t worried about the permanence of that decision anymore. American Energy Alliance President Tom Pyle, who is based in Washington, D.C., said President-elect Trump could reverse an Obama administration decision to halt drilling in Arctic federal waters.

“There’s still a lot of untapped energy potential in Alaska and I suspect that President-elect Trump will look at that very closely and put together plans that put the state back in the game,” Pyle said.

Another thing Pyle hopes Trump will accomplish is drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Republican leaders like Senator Murkowski have been pushing for oil and gas development in the refuge for years.

But some experts caution Republican control of both the White House and Congress doesn’t mean change will come quickly. Jason Hutt chairs the environmental strategies group at Bracewell law firm in Washington, D.C.

“The election obviously — we wake up to a new world,” Hutt said. “But it doesn’t mean that there’s not a regulatory process that will be required to change or shift some of the policies — that will take time.”

And Hutt said given low oil prices, reversing an Obama administration decision on Arctic drilling may not be the first push oil companies make under President Trump. Michael Levine, Pacific Senior Counsel for Oceana in Juneau, agrees low oil prices could put a wrench in dreams of Arctic drilling. And Levine said if Trump’s campaign promises to reverse course on the Obama administration’s climate policies hold true, he can expect environmental groups to fight him every step of the way.

“If in fact a President Trump sides with the very small minority of those who don’t believe in anthropogenic climate change, we will be stuck fighting backward-looking policies for at least the next four years. And fight them we will,” Levine said.

Levine said it’s too early to say what those policies might look like. Oil industry supporters are hopeful, but they also say it’s too early to predict which issues will rise to the top of President-elect Trump’s priority list.

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Elizabeth Harball is a reporter with Alaska's Energy Desk, covering Alaska’s oil and gas industry and environmental policy. She is a contributor to the Energy Desk’s Midnight Oil podcast series. Before moving to Alaska in 2016, Harball worked at E&E News in Washington, D.C., where she covered federal and state climate change policy. Originally from Kalispell, Montana, Harball is a graduate of Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.