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Alaska   Alaska Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint State Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)

Last Updated: October 19, 2017

Overview

Alaska’s energy demand per capita is the third highest in the nation.

Alaska, the largest U.S. state by area, is one-fifth the size of the Lower 48 states, and, with its Aleutian Island chain, is as wide as the Lower 48 states from east to west.1 It is the only state with territory north of the Arctic Circle, and it has the highest mountains and longest coastline of any state.2 Alaska's winters are frequently severe, but its climate varies significantly from north to south and from winter to summer, particularly in the interior, where temperatures ranging from 100°F to minus 80°F have been recorded.3 Large areas of Alaska remain uninhabited. It has the fourth-smallest population and is the least densely populated among the states and the District of Columbia.4 More than two-fifths of Alaskans live in the Anchorage area, while the rest of the state averages less than one resident per square mile.5

The oil and natural gas industry is a key part of Alaska's economy.6 Since 1982, every eligible state resident has received an annual dividend that is based on the value of oil revenue in the Alaska Permanent Fund.7 The state's North Slope contains half a dozen of the 100 largest oil fields in the United States and one of the 100 largest natural gas fields.8 Alaska's Prudhoe Bay field remains among the 10 largest oil fields in the nation

In recent years, Alaska has experienced warmer temperatures for longer periods of time during the year. Warmer temperatures reduce the amount of time energy companies can explore for onshore oil, because ice roads and drilling pads can be used only during the coldest months of the year, when the frozen land is less damaged by equipment. Conversely, the warmer temperatures reduce floating ice packs, potentially making offshore oil exploration easier.9

Alaska has other substantial energy resources. The state's coal resource is estimated to be larger than the combined resources of the Lower 48 states.10 Its many rivers offer some of the highest hydroelectric power potential in the nation.11 Large swaths of the Alaskan coastline offer significant wind energy potential,12 and the state's many volcanic fields offer geothermal potential.13 Because of its small population, Alaska's total energy demand is below the national median.14 However, harsh winters and energy-intensive industry make the state's per capita energy consumption the third highest in the nation after Louisiana and Wyoming.15

Petroleum

Most of Alaska’s natural gas production is reinjected into oil fields to maintain oil production rates.

Alaska's proved petroleum reserves of 2.1 billion barrels at the beginning of 2016 were the fourth largest of any state.16 Most of Alaska's crude oil production takes place on the North Slope,17 where improved drilling efficiencies have recently resulted in the first increase in production since 2002.18,19,20 Annual production has fallen to less than 500,000 barrels per day from its peak of 2 million barrels per day in 1988, although monthly output during the first half of 2017 exceeded 500,000 barrels per day.21,22,23 Starting in 2003, Alaska's annual oil production declined steadily as the state's oil fields matured, but it has remained one of the top five crude oil-producing states in the nation, and its output began increasing in 2016.24 Known reserves on the North Slope have not yet been tapped,25 and large areas of the state remain unexplored. However, in 2017, the U.S. federal government ended the prohibition against drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, opening a small portion of the refuge along Alaska's northern coast to energy development.26

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System transports crude oil from the frozen North Slope to the warm-water port at Valdez, on Alaska's southern coast.27 The pipeline, which marked its 40th anniversary in 2017, can carry more than 2 million barrels per day. Actual deliveries have been less than 1 million barrels per day since 2003, although pipeline shipments began increasing in 2016.28,29 The low volumes cause the oil to move more slowly in the pipeline, and the slower oil results in colder oil, which creates challenges for the pipeline's operators.30 Alaskan crude oil is transported by tanker primarily to refineries in Alaska, California, and Washington.31,32,33 On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker struck Bligh Reef and spilled 257,000 barrels of crude oil into the Prince William Sound.34 As a result, changes were made by industry and regulators in tanker construction, navigation technology, and crew training.35

Alaska is among the lowest one-fifth of states in total demand for finished petroleum products.36 The state has five operating refineries.37 Two of them, in the Prudhoe Bay region, supply fuel to crude oil drilling operations. Motor gasoline demand is primarily met by a refinery in Kenai. Aviation and heating fuels are also produced there as well as in two other refineries, located at Valdez and near Fairbanks.38,39 A sixth refinery near Fairbanks, once the state's largest, was shut down in 2014, with the owner citing unfavorable economics.40,41 Alaska is the largest jet fuel-consuming state on a per capita basis.42,43 It is a major fueling stop for military aircraft as well as for commercial passenger and cargo flights between the United States and Asian countries.44,45 Alaska also consumes petroleum to produce about one-seventh of its utility-scale net electricity generation,46 and to produce electricity from diesel-fueled generators in isolated communities.47 Alaska both imports and exports petroleum products.48

Natural gas

Alaska's proved natural gas reserves totaled 4.6 trillion cubic feet at the start of 2016, which, although large, left Alaska out of the top 10 states with the biggest reserves.49 Alaska ranks third in the nation in natural gas gross withdrawals,50 but most of the state's production is not brought to market. Natural gas volumes from the North Slope far exceed local demand, and there is no pipeline to transport the natural gas to consumers in the south.51 Large volumes of natural gas, extracted during oil production, are reinjected into oil fields to help maintain crude oil production rates.52 About three-fourths of Alaska's natural gas withdrawals are consumed at the production site.53 Natural gas produced in the south is either consumed domestically or exported as liquefied natural gas (LNG).54

The state government has long urged construction of a natural gas pipeline linking Alaska's North Slope with markets in the Lower 48 states, but, to date, a pipeline has not been considered commercially feasible.55 Several major pipeline project applications have been filed with the state of Alaska, but none have been completed.56 Until 2012, the Kenai LNG liquefaction and terminal complex on the Cook Inlet, which began operating in 1969, was the only facility in the United States authorized to export LNG produced from domestic natural gas. The terminal, which has the capacity to liquefy up to 200 million cubic feet of natural gas per day,57 has exported LNG to Japan.58,59,60 However, with LNG shipments from the terminal declining, the terminal's owner announced in mid-2017 that it would put the plant in long-term shutdown.61 The Alaskan government is seeking to build a new LNG export terminal in the Nikiski area that could eventually ship up to 2.4 billion cubic feet of LNG per day. Such exports would require an 800-mile-long pipeline from the North Slope natural gas fields south to the Nikiski region.62 One step forward was taken in 2016 when the first production well was drilled in the Point Thomson field, which contains much of the natural gas that would be exported. However, the only marketed product from that well now is condensate,63 and low commodity prices continue to be a hurdle for the multi-billion-dollar pipeline project.64

Coal

Most of Alaska’s coal exports go to Asia and South America.

Alaska's recoverable coal reserves of 2.8 billion tons at the beginning of 2016 ranked the state in the middle third of coal producing states.65 Coal mines have operated in Alaska since 1855.66 Substantial deposits of bituminous, subbituminous, and lignite coal67,68 are found in the north, south, and central portions of the state,69 but most of Alaska's coal resources have remained unmined.70 Alaska has only one operating surface coal mine, the Usibelli mine, which produces about 1.2 million tons of coal per year.71 About half of Alaska's coal output is exported. The rest is burned by in-state industrial and commercial energy consumers, mostly heat and power cogeneration plants in the state's interior.72,73 Most of the state's coal exports go to Asia and South America.74

Electricity

The electricity infrastructure in Alaska differs from that in the Lower 48 states in that Alaskans are not linked to large, interconnected grids through transmission and distribution lines. Although an interconnected grid called the Railbelt serves the populated areas from Fairbanks to south of Anchorage, where three-fourths of the state's population lives, even that grid is isolated from the electric grids in Canada and the Lower 48 states.75 Retail electricity prices in rural areas can be three to five times higher than the rates in the urban areas, so the state provides financial assistance to local communities to help equalize the cost of electricity.76 Most of the state's rural communities have no grid access and rely on consumer-owned electric cooperatives for their power, and many of those rural power providers use diesel-fueled electricity generators for some or all of their power.77,78 That diesel use contributes to Alaska's ranking second only to Hawaii in the per capita generation of electric power from petroleum liquids.79,80

In 2016, natural gas accounted for 42% of Alaska's utility-scale electricity generation, and hydroelectric power came in second at 29%. Petroleum liquids accounted for nearly 15% of generation, coal for 10%, and wind power and biomass collectively accounted for 4% of Alaska's net electricity generation.81

Renewable energy

In 2016, wind power from more than 100 turbines supplied more than three-fourths of Alaska’s nonhydroelectric renewable electricity.

Alaska has a non-binding goal to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.82 Hydropower is Alaska's largest source of renewable electricity.83 Utility-scale hydropower facilities are concentrated in the state's south, in mountainous regions with high annual rainfalls. Smaller run-of-river projects, which do not employ dams, produce power in some rural communities. Alaska is also exploring tidal and ocean technologies that could supply renewable energy to coastal communities.84

About 4% of Alaska's utility-scale net electricity generation comes from nonhydroelectric renewable sources. In addition, small-scale wind, biomass, and solar generation are used in many of the state's remote communities to reduce the need for petroleum fuels. Wind resources are abundant along Alaska's coastline. Wind supplies more than three-fourths of Alaska's utility-scale nonhydroelectric renewable generation, with more than 60 megawatts of installed generating capacity at over 100 wind turbines,85,86,87 located primarily along the southern and western coasts and on the Railbelt grid.88,89,90 Increasing numbers of small wind energy facilities, including some wind-diesel hybrid systems, are providing power to rural communities throughout the state.91

Alaska's biomass fuels are wood, sawmill wastes, fish byproducts, and municipal waste. The first large-scale biodiesel plant in the state opened in 2010 and can produce 250,000 gallons of biodiesel annually using waste vegetable oil gathered from local restaurants.92 Wood is an important renewable energy source for Alaskans, with more than 100,000 cords burned every year for residential space heating.93 The state also has a growing number of wood pellet manufacturers.94 About 8 million gallons of fish oil are produced annually as a byproduct at Alaskan fish meal plants; some of the fish oil is used for boiler fuel.95

Alaska was one of eight states in 2016 that produced electricity from geothermal resources. Alaska's single geothermal power plant has a generating capacity of less than one megawatt.96 The 400-kilowatt geothermal power plant at Chena Hot Springs was built in 2006.Its generating capacity has since been increased to 730 kilowatts.97,98 Several more geothermal projects are in development.99 A major challenge is that much of Alaska's geothermal resources are located in remote areas, far from population centers that would receive the electricity generated.100

Despite Alaska's high latitude, solar energy is playing a role in off-grid applications, especially in remote locations. Solar thermal technologies, primarily for hot water and building heat, and solar photovoltaic panels are used to tap solar energy when it is available, reducing the need for other fuels.101 There are also over 70 rural Alaska communities that have combined heat and power systems, using the waste heat from electricity generation to heat homes and other buildings.102

Energy on tribal lands

Alaska has more territory held as tribal lands than any other state—over 44 million acres.103 Almost all Alaskan tribal land is owned outright by 12 regional native corporations encompassing 229 tribal groups.104 The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, passed by the U.S. Congress in 1971, divided Alaska into 12 geographic regions of common heritage and interests. Under the Act, tribal lands do not have the sovereign status of reservations, as Native American reservations do in the Lower 48 states. Instead, the land is owned corporately by Native Alaskans, allowing each native corporation to benefit from resources on their lands.105 The 12 native corporations hold most subsurface mineral rights for native lands and all rank among the largest private businesses in the state.106

Alaska's tribal lands include oil and natural gas resources on the North Slope and along the southern coast, as well as Alaska's largest bituminous coal deposit.107,108,109 Almost one-fourth of Alaska's 129 million acres of forested land is controlled by native corporations, providing the tribes with vast biomass resource potential. Almost two-thirds of the timber harvested in Alaska comes from native corporations' land.110 Seventy percent of the revenue earned from timber and mineral resources by each regional corporation is shared among all 12 corporations in proportion to their native populations. A significant portion of each corporation's revenue is then redistributed to village corporations within each region.111 The corporations have formed many business subsidiaries that involve Native Alaskans in the development of their energy resources, including drilling field services for crude oil and natural gas resources, oil refining, and real estate and financial services. One corporation manages a commercial-scale wind farm and is a shareholder in Alaska's first underground natural gas storage facility. 112

Endnotes

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5 Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Alaska Population Overview, 2015 Estimates (November 2016), p. 7.
6 State of Alaska, Alaska Kids' Corner, Economy, accessed September 5, 2017.
7 Alaska Department of Revenue, Permanent Fund Dividend Division, accessed September 21, 2017.
8 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Top 100 U.S. Oil & Gas Fields (March 2015), p. 5, 8.
9 National Climate Assessment, Alaska, Introduction, accessed September 15, 2017.
10 Flores, Romeo M., Gary D. Stricker, and Scott A. Kinney, Alaska Coal Geology, Resources, and Coalbed Methane Potential, U.S. Geological Survey, DDS-77 (2005), Introduction.
11 U.S. Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, National Hydropower Asset Assessment Program, Alaska Region, accessed September 15, 2017.
12 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, Alaska 110-Meter Potential Wind Capacity Map, updated February 2015.
13 Leny, Patrick, and Julie Brizzee, Alaska Geothermal Resources, INEEL/MIS-2002-1623-Rev. 1 (November 2003).
14 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C3, Primary Energy Consumption Estimates, 2015.
15 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C13, Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2015.
16 U.S. EIA, U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2015, Table 6 (December 4, 2016).
17 U.S. EIA, Crude Oil Production, Annual-thousand barrels, 2016.
18 U.S. EIA, Monthly Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production (August 2017), Table 2, Production of crude oil and lease condensate in the United States with monthly and annual changes.
19 Bradner, Tim, "Producers Breathe New Life into Alaska's Prudhoe Bay: At the Wellhead," The Barrel (September 21, 2015).
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25 Moriarty, Kara, The State of the Oil & Gas Industry, Alaska Oil & Gas Association (August 2, 2016), slide 6.
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36 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F15, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2015.
37 U.S. EIA, Refinery Capacity Report (June 21, 2017), Table 3, Capacity of Operable Petroleum Refineries by State as of January 1, 2017, p. 1.
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40 Doan, Lynn, and Eliot Caroom, "Flint Hills Alaska Refinery to Shut Amid ‘Enormous' Costs," Bloomberg Business (February 5, 2014).
41 Buxton, Max, "Flint Hills' Quiet Transition: Closed Refinery Prepares for Next Phase as a Terminal," Newsminer.com (June 30, 2014).
42 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C8, Transportation Sector Energy Consumption Estimates, 2015.
43 U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates, July 1, 2016.
44 Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, Airport Facts, accessed September 12, 2017.
45 Federal Aviation Administration, Alaskan Region, FAI FSS - Military Activity, updated August 7, 2015.
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47 U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, "Murkowski Calls Attention to Alaska's Isolated Energy Systems," Press Release (July 14, 2015).
48 U.S. Census Bureau, Foreign Trade, State Imports for Alaska and State Exports from Alaska (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016).
49 U.S. EIA, U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2015, Table 10 (December 4, 2016).
50 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Gross Withdrawals, Annual-Million Cubic Feet, 2011-16.
51 U.S. EIA, Alaska, Profile Overview, Map Legend, natural gas facilities, accessed September 14, 2017.
52 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Summary, Alaska, 2011-16.
53 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End Use, Alaska, Annual, 2011-16.
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56 Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Alaska Natural Gas Transportation Projects, accessed September 14, 2017.
57 Phillips, Aaron, "ConocoPhillips to Unload Kenai Facility," Investopedia (December 6, 2016).
58 ConocoPhillips Alaska, Kenai LNG Exports, accessed September 13, 2017.
59 Ratner, Michael, et al., U.S. Natural Gas Exports: New Opportunities, Uncertain Outcomes, Congressional Research Service (Washington, DC, January 28, 2015), p. 1, 5.
60 DiSavino, Scott, "U.S. Approves ConocoPhillips LNG Exports from Alaska," Reuters (February 9, 2016).
61 Brehmer, Eldwood, "ConocoPhillips Putting LNG Plant in Deep Freeze," Alaska Journal of Commerce (July 13, 2017).
62 Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Oil & Gas, Alaska LNG, accessed September 13, 2017.
63 DeMarban, Alex, "After Decades of Failed Attempts, Oil Production Begins at Point Thomson," Alaska Dispatch News (July 7, 2016).
64 Torres, Nicolas, "Report: ExxonMobil Won't Invest in Alaska LNG Project, Looks for Exit," Petro Global News (September 5, 2016).
65 U.S. EIA, U.S. Coal Reserves, Table 15 (November 4, 2016).
66 Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Mining, Land & Water, Coal Regulatory Program, Coal Mining in Alaska, accessed September 15, 2017.
67 Flores, Romeo M., Gary D. Stricker, and Scott A. Kinney, Alaska Coal Geology, Resources, and Coalbed Methane Potential, U.S. Geological Survey, DDS-77 (2005), Abstract.
68 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2015 (November 3, 2016), Table 15, Recoverable Coal Reserves at Producing Mines, Estimated Recoverable Reserves, and Demonstrated Reserve Base by Mining Method, 2015.
69 U.S. EIA, U.S. Coalbed Methane (July 2007).
70 Flores, Romeo M., Gary D. Stricker, and Scott A. Kinney, Alaska Coal Geology, Resources, and Coalbed Methane Potential, U.S. Geological Survey, DDS-77 (2005), Introduction.
71 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2015 (November 3, 2016), Table 1, Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type, 2015 and 2014.
72 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Distribution Report 2014 , Domestic and foreign distribution of U.S. coal by origin State, and Domestic distribution of U.S. coal by origin State, consumer, destination and method of transportation.
73 McDowell Group, Statewide Socioeconomic Impacts of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. (January 2015), p. 11-12.
74 Usibelli Coal Mine, accessed September 15, 2017.
75 Alaska Center for Energy and Power, Alaska Energy Wiki, Railbelt, accessed September 11, 2017.
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77 Fay, Ginny, Alejandra Villalobos Meléndez, and Corinna West, Alaska Energy Statistics, 1960-2011, Final Report (December 2013), p. 6-8.
78 Villalobos Meléndez, Alejandra, and Ginny Fay, "Energizing Alaska: Electricity Around the State," Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage (July 2012), p. 5.
79 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Table 1.5.B.
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81 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.3.B, 1.4.B, 1.5.B, 1.7.B, 1.10.B, 1.11.B.
82 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 22.
83 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.10.B, 1.11.B.
84 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 11-12.
85 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 17.
86 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2017), Tables 1.11.B, 1.14.B.
87 American Wind Energy Association, Alaska Wind Energy, accessed September 18, 2017.
88 Kodiak Electric Association, Pillar Mountain Wind Farm, updated July 27, 2017.
89 Caldwell, Suzanna, "With No Buyers for Power, Fire Island Delays Adding Turbines," Alaska Dispatch News (January 29, 2015).
90 Golden Valley Electric Association, Eva Creek Wind Project, accessed September 18, 2017.
91 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 16.
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93 Alaska Energy Authority, Biomass Energy, accessed October 3, 2017.
94 Alaska Energy Authority, Biomass 101, accessed October 3, 2017.
95 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 7.
96 Geothermal Energy Association, 2016 Annual U.S. and Global Geothermal Power Production Report (March 2016), p. 17.
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101 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 15.
102 Alaska Energy Authority, Energy Technologies: Heat Recovery, (August 2017).
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107 National Congress of American Indians, Alaska Native Corporations, accessed on September 19, 2017.
108 Flores, Romeo M., Gary D. Stricker, and Scott A. Kinney, Alaska Coal Geology, Resources, and Coalbed Methane Potential, USGS, DDS-77 (2005) -Northern Alaska Slope Coal Province.
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