Rick Whitbeck: Thanks to fossil fuels, Anchorage averted a crisis this winter

Anchorage winter morning. Photo credit: Office of the Mayor


A recent joint hearing of the House and Senate Resources committee I attended in Juneau laid bare the importance of natural gas to Southcentral Alaska residents and businesses.

The brutality of this winter has been a wake-up call for Southcentral Alaskans about the importance of reliable energy. When temperatures collapsed to the -20s in parts of Anchorage and -40s in parts of the Mat-Su, reliability was the difference between life and death other companies were looking for.

In a nutshell, natural gas saved the day in our moment of need. During the coldest week of winter, Cook Inlet Natural Gas Storage Alaska, a gas storage system managed by Enstar, started experiencing issues with a portion of its reservoir network, compromising its ability to supply a full complement of gas to utility customers throughout Southcentral Alaska.

Thanks to fossil fuels, a crisis was averted. Even as we used a record amount of natural gas on Jan. 31 — 268 million cubic feet, versus a typical January demand of 160 million cubic feet — our heat and power systems remained intact. Hilcorp, Alaska’s dominant natural gas producer, increased its production beyond its contracted volumes. Other Cook Inlet producers ran full throttle. This was the difference between heat and light in our homes instead of cold and darkness.

It should be a moment to celebrate. Traditional energy solutions worked, as they have in Southcentral Alaska since the Swanson River field was first developed in the 1950s.

Instead of a simple thank-you, lawmakers were more interested in scoring political points to advance their green agenda. Sen. Bill Wielechowski harangued Hilcorp over its profit margins rather than focusing on assisting producers to be able to drill gas. Rep. Donna Mears’ questioning of presenters took on a “petroleum is bad” tenor. It was language consistent with a state Democratic party platform considering a call for an end to all oil drilling and fracking.

The level of indignation toward the very companies capable of solving any supply shortages was astonishing. Rather than learn from the experience, the legislators were content to have avoided the bullet while acting as if nothing had happened and the threat had been permanently averted.

That’s not the way to govern. Turning away from reliable energy sources is no future.

Alaska is blessed with abundant natural resources. We have a century’s worth of coal reserves in Healy, nearly 150 years of Railbelt-wide demands of natural gas waiting to be brought down from the North Slope and nearly two trillion cubic feet of gas waiting to be produced in Cook Inlet.

Look at all the progress underway in our state from traditional sources of energy. Companies like Santos are hard at work extracting oil from the Pikka oil field. Ditto with ConocoPhillips Inc. and its Willow project on the North Slope. Hilcorp has revitalized the Prudhoe Bay area, and there are other companies looking to begin production in the coming years.

Another boom could be just around the corner. The issue isn’t a shortage of supply. It’s a lack of willpower to invest in projects and producers. Finding paths to get those supplies to market should be the priority for lawmakers the rest of this session. This mission most certainly should take priority over anti-market renewable portfolio standards.

Without reliable, affordable energy for Southcentral — and all of the Railbelt — people living on the margin from inflation and higher prices are at risk of falling off the financial cliff. Outmigration will explode, businesses will close, homelessness will increase, and social unrest won’t be out of the question.

Renewables are not the answer and won’t be anytime soon. In the recent cold snap, hydro, wind, and solar accounted for less than one-seventh of our power. If we are to survive another rough winter storm, our government officials should be calling for more of what works — Alaska natural gas — and not appeasing their green donors who reside in warm San Francisco and balmy Seattle who invest in failed wind and solar.

If we had listened to those pushing a not-ready-for-prime-time renewables “solution,” the result could have been widespread burst pipes in homes and businesses. The damage to the underlying infrastructure could have taken months or even years to fix. Even worse, under those conditions, widespread blackouts and even loss of life could have occurred. These are very real — and tragic — consequences if we don’t have heat and power available when we need it.

But we did because fossil fuels delivered. They are the good guys. Thankfully, they are in plentiful supply in our state. They deliver, they work, they power our everyday lives, and will for decades.

Rick Whitbeck is the Alaska state director for Power The Future, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for American energy jobs. Contact him at [email protected]and follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @PTFAlaska. This originally appeared in the Anchorage Daily News.


  1. But Democrats and people have poor memory so by next winter would forget. This why this sort of news need to be repeatedly circulated as PR to remind us all year the value of fossil fuel to human life.

    • Jen, it is not just a matter of Democrats and radical leftists (but I repeat myself) having poor memories, it is much more a matter of their inability to acknowledge reality. They live in a make-believe world in which their dogmas and faith-based beliefs completely override inconvenient (to them) facts and truths.

    • Solar will only work 1/3 rd of the time. I’m happy to watch you experiment with your fantasy here tim. Ide like you completely disconnected from gas and power grid. Has it come to your attention that solar panels take mined sand for the glass and huge amounts of copper. So that greasy nasty oil and diesel you’re saving in your home will come in handy in the mining process. O ya and how about the heat for the smelters to refine the glass and copper??? O ya we can get the copper from mines in 3rd world countries using child labor. It all sounds swell doesn’t it.

    • Tim, you know as well as I do that nuclear is OFF the table. When is the last time you heard a politician utter those words? And here we go with heat pumps….. listen, they work decently to about the lower single digits, maybe negative singles. Drop to minus 30? Yeah, good luck with that.

    • If you like solar and wind I think that’s great use your own money and pursue that Avenue but don’t try to set blanket policy to use everyone’s money for the things that you alone like the fact is solar wind are highly ineffective I get that they’re popular but they’re ineffective compared to natural gas and oil and propane

    • How can we forget what happened to Texas several years ago, when their grid went down!!.. They depended upon alot on the Green energy and when the weather went “crazy”, they had their disaster.. Learning from that, we must open up our fields and let the “green energy” idiots freeze if that’s what they want. I have alot of friends in TX, and they shared their situations.

  2. The bull—- part of this article is the inference that the LNG project is, in any way, viable. If people didn’t have such a hardon for coal, we would have some of the cheapest eletricity in the nation. Natural gas out of the inlet costs 3 times what it would cost shipped in from the gulf.

    • 100% what we need here is a huge oil, gas and coal strategic Reserve not a $100 billion dollar battery Bank nothing makes me laugh harder than driving by all these solar Farms covered in snow all winter long producing less than 2% of their rated capacity I can hear the gas turbine spinning from my house it’s a lovely sound and at 99% capacity factor mind you

  3. During the next cold snap and NatGas in limited supply or any delivery issues then I suggest:
    STOP delivering gas to Sen. Bill Wielechowski’s home and the home of every other democrat in Anchorage to include all the democrats on the Anchorage Assembly, Anchorage School Board and any other organization like nonprofits that have left and far left influence in or around Anchorage.

    Additionally — Plus make sure these same well-meaning democrat folks all open up the personal residences to the homeless for shelter in place for the homeless until Summer 2024. Anchorage Assembly members especially need to step up to the plate and provide food and bed space.

  4. If at -40 we lost gas and electricity at the same time for over 1 day ide bet we would have 30.000 casualties and many more injuries. Everything gets real serious fast in – temps. Cold sneaks in fast. How many fools live in Alaska and are completely reliant on gas and electricity?? It’s actually pretty scary to think about.

  5. Personally, since I no longer live in that dump called Anchorage, I’d love to see natural gas cut off along with the Eklutna dam removed. Maybe then, when the costs of energy quadruples the voters will start caring about common sense and stop this madness.

  6. Does it really take 1000 words to state something so obvious? Don’t hurt your arm by patting yourself on the back, Mr. Whitbeck.

    The truth is that the Southcentral Alaska energy setup has been badly mismanaged for years. The gas shortage situation has been known and understood for a long, long time, yet the can kept getting kicked further and further down the road. Now people are panicking as the supply situation remains gridlocked and they suddenly come to understand that even the magical LNG import scenario will take years to implement.

    So what’s the value of a home in Alaska when there’s not enough fuel to heat it?

    I have no doubt that when the next crisis arrives (maybe next winter), Mr. Whitbeck will pack his bags and head south to Cancun, a la Ted Cruz.

    • You are so full of sh*t hkitten. Such a perfect troll using your well scripted talking points. There is plenty of fuel in Cook Inlet and in the rest of Alaska. Just that your decrepit boss in the big house does not want us drilling and for some reason, there seems to be a shortage of companies that want to drill. Plenty of fuel here and plenty of idiots running our country.

      • The problem, Dear Ginny, is that it is not economic for a major producer to gear up and do all that is required to find, drill, and produce natural gas in Southcentral Alaska to serve what is essentially a small-sized American city. That’s the real problem – it’s not some sort of Biden roadblock trying to freeze Alaskan Conservatives out of their homes, however tempting that may be.

        There is one easy way to solve your problem, though: Use some of your precious Permanent Fund capital to hire major producers to come in with juicy cost-plus contracts to find and deliver your natural gas. Make the deal sweet enough, and they will line up. Once the capital investments for the developments are covered, the cost of the gas to the consumer will be reasonable.

        It’s not some sort of conspiracy, Sweetheart, it’s ECON 101. Maybe you never took that one.

  7. WEF is having all world leaders sign a treaty this spring to give all control to WEF (swamp)
    Eat bugs and have no gas, shoot u up with poison
    Biden administration will sign it
    Good thing we can always dig some of the worlds best anthracite coal out of the hill here to heat our camp fire!
    Survival preparation
    Reporting from my bunker!
    Sitting next to my hot wood stove!

    Help Mr Wizard


  8. Everybody in the world knows Alaskan people cannot live without fossil fuels, how the pie is split up depends on what the people say as the resources belong to us, the developers are not starving to death, but are dividend checks are getting smaller and smaller.

  9. Stable fiscal policies from legislators, which translates,don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg, will help investor confidence.

  10. We’re all preaching to the choir here and know fossil fuels keeps us alive. The issue lies with the climate cultists who think they’re going to die if the US doesn’t drop all fossil fuels today. They bring up the 2 degree nonsense and think we’ll all be in a scorching desert in 5 years. Try to tell them different and the go nuts.

  11. Its pretty sad that that the legislators listen to people who have no common sense and no clue on reality. Here up in the Fairbanks/ North Pole area, we have extreme cold temps and heating oil costs a lot, but we cannot use other means to heat our homes, like using the wood stoves. They issue no burn bans days before the real cold hits and have it last all during the cold snap forecast. They are more worried about it during the winter here than in the summer when we have wildfires burning and creating more smoke then winter time…. Here is my solution the Legislators that voted to create these burn bans and forcing people to stay cold should pay for my heating bills and any repair to my house caused by this…. They taken my rights away to heat my home in the most cost effective way.

  12. The problem with Anchorage is they have waaaay too many talking heads that don’t do research, therefore know nothing except what they tell each other, which is nothing. You can pay A LOTSA MONEY OUT to assist power and heat with wind and solar, but neither of those work as well as nuclear and are more expensive. Our own oil and gas are our cheapest and greatest heating and power fuels. But Anchorage doesn’t want to hear that. It doesn’t support their narrative. I wonder what would be discovered if we followed the money out from wind and solar? Who is really making out? Not Alaska!


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