Alaska mulls extra oil drilling to cope with climate change

Expanding the search for oil is necessary to pay for the damage caused by climate change, the Governor of Alaska has told the BBC.

The state is suffering significant climate impacts from rising seas forcing the relocation of remote villages. Governor Bill Walker says that coping with these changes is hugely expensive. He wants to "urgently" drill in the protected lands of the Arctic National Wilderness Refuge to fund them. Alaska has been severely hit by the dramatic drop in the price of oil over the past two years.

We are in a significant fiscal challenge. We have villages that are washing away because of changes in the climate Bill Walker, Governor of Alaska

The state is the only one in the US that doesn't have an income or sales tax, getting 90% of its day-to-day expenditure from levies on the production of oil and gas. But the halving in the price of crude over the past year has seen Alaska's financial health deteriorate. The recent decision by Shell to pull out of drilling in the Chukchi sea off the state's north coast has compounded the problem.

If Shell had found oil, it would have been a major boost for the the huge Trans Alaskan Pipeline that transports oil from the northern production fields to the tanker terminal in Valdez some 1,300km to the south. Built to carry 2 million barrels a day, it's running at about 25% of its capacity as existing oil field production declines. While Alaska's income from the oil continues to fall, expenditure on climate related activities is likely to go up. Coastal erosion is threatening a number of native communities in remote areas such as Kivalina.

'Absolute urgency'

To deal with situations like this, the governor told the BBC, more oil was needed.

"We are in a significant fiscal challenge. We have villages that are washing away because of changes in the climate," Governor Walker said.

"I don't see anyone putting together contribution funds to help move Kivalina; that is our obligation, we stand by that - we need to figure out how to do that. But those are very expensive - we have about 12 villages in that situation.

I'd like to see us agreeing, Alaskans agreeing, that we need to keep fossil fuels in the groundPrincess Daazhraii Johnson, Gwich'in community

I asked him if extra drilling was needed to help pay for these impacts.

"Absolutely, in a responsible way as we have in the past."

The governor argues that a small part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be drilled to boost Alaska's revenues.

"This isn't something we can put off for 10-20 years... We have to begin this process now - it's an absolute urgency for Alaska."