Terrence Cole: Life in Alaska after Prudhoe Bay

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Terrence Cole is a professor of history at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. His most recent book is “Fighting for the 49th Star: C.W. Snedden and the Crusade for Alaska Statehood.”]

FAIRBANKS — The residents of Alaska owe a debt of gratitude to Gov. Sean Parnell for proposing a cut of billions of dollars in oil taxes, but not for the substance of the proposal. He has not explained his 180-degree reversal on the tax issue. He has not explained why he now opposes the tax policy he has been supporting since it first passed and had endorsed less than a year ago during his election campaign. His administration seems unwilling or unable to provide solid evidence or do the research to prove that this idea makes fiscal sense.

But Parnell and the oil producers have correctly highlighted the long-term crisis facing Alaska that has been too easy for the uninformed public and timid politicians to ignore for too long: the continuing decline in oil production. At the current rate, this drop will lead in the not-too-distant future to the shutdown of the trans-Alaska pipeline and financial catastrophe for the state....

Alaska hit the jackpot with the discovery of Prudhoe Bay, and we have been living off that fortune ever since, even as the flow through the pipeline has declined for more than 20 years. We need to face reality; the easy oil money is almost all gone. We can’t responsibly plan for the future by hoping to win the lottery again, even if somewhere a second Prudhoe Bay lies still undiscovered....

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