What the ban on Russian oil could mean for Alaska

An industrial facility
Marathon has historically imported crude from Russia and other countries to power its refinery in Kenai. (Sabine Poux/KDLL)

President Biden announced on Tuesday a ban on Russian oil and gas imports to the U.S.

Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are among the senators who had pushed for such a ban to punish Russ Ukraine.

And in Juneau, the Alaska State Senate made a similar request.

The goal is to cripple Russia’s economic power. The western U.S. states get between 300,000 and 7 million barrels of oil from Russia every month, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.

Little if any of that supply heads to Alaska now, although there is at least one facility in Alaska that has historically included Russian crude among its foreign imports — the Marathon Refinery in Kenai.

Marathon isn’t currently importing Russian crude to Kenai, said Kara Moriarty, head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. She said the facility stopped importing from the country around last year, though she isn’t exactly sure why.

“I just know at this time there are no Russian imports to Alaska I’m aware of,” she said.

Jamal Kheiry, a spokesperson from Marathon Petroleum, said the company doesn’t comment on its crude sourcing beyond the fact that it processes “mainly Alaska domestic crude along with limited international crude to manufacture gasoline, distillates, heavy fuel oil, asphalt and propane.”

Kara Moriarty, president and CEO of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, at a House Resources Committee meeting Feb. 29, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)

Moriarty said refineries like the Kenai facility will make decisions about where they source imports based on demand and the type of crude they need.

She guesses those factors — not the current crisis in Ukraine — were to blame for the change.

“Those circumstances change pretty fluidly,” she said. “And so I don’t know any rationale for recent, but I know that’s been some of the rationale in the past.”

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Former Marathon plant manager Mark Necessary said he remembers importing some Russian crude during his time at the plant between the 1970s and 1990s. At that time, the refinery was under different ownership.

In a Senate speech last week, Sullivan quoted Ukraine’s minister of Foreign Affairs, who said that buying Russian oil and gas now amounts to paying for the murder of Ukrainian men, women and children.

“That’s the foreign minister of Ukraine,” Sullivan said. “What he’s asking for is something we can easily do.”

He suggested that the U.S. could fill in the gaps in production left by such an embargo.

But Moriarty said it’s too soon to tell what a ban on Russian oil could mean for Alaska’s own production.

“Because no one knows for certain how long this conflict is going to last,” she said. “No one knows the ramifications, depending on how long this is going to last. Does this open a market for us and for gas and North Slope gas? Again, I think it’s just too soon to tell.”

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