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Alaska   Alaska Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

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

Last Updated: November 15, 2018

Overview

Alaska, the largest U.S. state, 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 of the U.S. states and is the least densely populated state.4 Nearly half of Alaskans live in the cities of Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks, 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 Alaska is the only state that does not have a state sales tax or a personal income tax, as revenues from Alaska's oil and gas industry have funded most of the state government for several decades.7 Since 1982, every eligible state resident has received an annual dividend that is based on the value of oil royalty revenue in the Alaska Permanent Fund.8 The state's North Slope contains 6 of the 100 largest oil fields in the United States and 1 of the 100 largest natural gas fields.9 Alaska's Prudhoe Bay field is 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 heavy equipment. Conversely, the warmer temperatures reduce floating ice packs, potentially making offshore oil exploration easier.10

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

Alaska has other substantial energy resources. The state's recoverable coal reserves rank among the top one-third of the coal-producing states.11 Its many rivers offer some of the highest hydroelectric power potential in the nation.12 Large swaths of the Alaskan coastline offer significant wind energy potential,13 and the state's many volcanic fields offer geothermal potential.14 Because of its small population, Alaska's total energy demand is below the national median.15 However, with its harsh winters, energy-intensive oil and natural gas industries, and small population, the state's per capita energy consumption is the third highest in the nation, after Louisiana and Wyoming.16

Petroleum

Alaska's proved crude oil reserves of 1.6 billion barrels at the beginning of 2017 were the sixth largest of any state.17 Most of Alaska's crude oil production occurs on the North Slope, where improved drilling efficiencies have recently resulted in the first increase in annual production since 2002.18,19 The state's annual oil production during 2017 was the highest in three years, but output was still down to just under 500,000 barrels per day from its peak of 2 million barrels per day in 1988. Monthly production in the summer of 2018 fell below 400,000 barrels per day for the first time since 1977.20,21 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.22

Known oil reserves on the North Slope have not yet been tapped,23 and large areas of the state remain unexplored. However, in 2017, oil exploration and drilling was no longer prohibited in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), and the U.S. Department of the Interior plans to lease tracts along the refuge's 1.6 million-acre northern coastal plain to energy companies.24,25 The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the ANWR coastal plain holds 10.4 billion barrels of crude oil. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) doesn't expect ANWR oil production to start until 2031 because of the time needed for energy companies to acquire leases, explore, and develop the required production infrastructure.26

Almost 80% of the oil produced in Alaska is transported by tankers to refineries in Washington and California.

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 lower 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. The amount of time it takes for oil to travel through the pipeline from the North Slope to the Valdez port has increased from 4.5 days in 1988 to 18 days in 2018.30,31 Almost 80% of the oil produced in Alaska in 2017 was transported by tankers to refineries in Washington and California. Another 15% of the state's oil production was refined in Alaska, and the remaining 5% was shipped to Hawaii or exported to international destinations.32 On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker struck Bligh Reef and spilled 257,000 barrels of crude oil into Prince William Sound.33 As a result, changes were made by industry and regulators in tanker construction, navigation technology, and crew training.34

Alaska ranks among the lowest one-fifth of the states in total demand for finished petroleum products.35 The state has five operating refineries.36 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.37,38 Alaska is the largest jet fuel-consuming state on a per capita basis.39,40 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.41,42,43 Alaska also consumes petroleum to produce about one-seventh of its utility-scale net electricity generation,44 and to produce electricity from diesel-fueled generators in isolated communities.45 Alaska both imports and exports petroleum products.46

Natural gas

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

Alaska's proved natural gas reserves totaled 3.3 trillion cubic feet at the start of 2017, which, although large, left Alaska out of the top 10 states with the biggest reserves.47 Alaska ranks third in the nation (after Texas and Pennsylvania) in natural gas gross withdrawals,48 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.49 Large volumes of natural gas, extracted during oil production, are reinjected into oil fields to help maintain crude oil production rates.50 About 70% of Alaska's natural gas consumption occurs in the natural gas and crude oil production process.51

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.52 Several major proposed pipeline projects have been filed with the state of Alaska, but none have been built.53 Until 2012, the Kenai liquefied natural gas (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,54 has exported LNG to Asia.55 However, with LNG shipments from the terminal declining, the terminal's owner announced in 2017 that it would put the plant in long-term shutdown and sell the facility.56,57 The Alaskan government encourages energy companies to build a new LNG export terminal near Anchorage in the Nikiski area, located along the state's south-central coast.58 The terminal would receive natural gas from North Slope fields via an 800-mile-long pipeline that could transport up to 3.3 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day.59 The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is expected to decide whether to approve the project in early 2020.60

Coal

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

Alaska's recoverable coal reserves were estimated to be about 2.3 billion tons at the end of 2017, equal to almost 2% of the U.S. total.61 Coal mines have operated in Alaska since 1855.62 Substantial deposits of bituminous coal, subbituminous coal, and lignite63,64 are found in the north, south, and central portions of the state,65 but most of Alaska's coal resources have remained unmined.66 Alaska has only one operating surface coal mine, the Usibelli mine, which produces almost 1 million short tons of coal per year.67 In 2017, none of Alaska's coal was exported, but was used in the state at coal-fired power plants and by commercial and institutional users.68,69 However, in past years Alaska exported some of its coal to countries in Asia and South America.70

Electricity

In 2017, natural gas accounted for 43% of Alaska's utility-scale net electricity generation, and hydroelectric power came in second at 25%. Petroleum liquids accounted for 15% of generation, coal for 9%, and wind power and biomass collectively accounted for almost 4% of Alaska's net electricity generation.71 In October 2018, the only coal-fired power plant built in the United States since 2015 was completed in Alaska. The combined heat and power plant was built by the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and has a generating capacity of 17 megawatts.72,73

The electricity infrastructure in Alaska differs from that in the Lower 48 states because 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.74 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.75 Most of the state's rural communities have no grid access and rely on consumer-owned electric cooperatives for their power. Many of those rural power providers use diesel-fueled electricity generators for some or all of their power.76,77 Diesel use contributes to Alaska's ranking second only to Hawaii in the amount of electricity generated from burning petroleum liquids.78

Renewable energy

In 2017, wind power from over 100 turbines supplied more than three-fourths of Alaska’s nonhydroelectric renewable power.

Alaska has a non-binding goal to generate 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025.79 Hydropower is Alaska's largest source of electricity generated from renewable resources.80 Utility-scale hydropower facilities are concentrated in southern Alaska, 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.81

About 4% of Alaska's utility-scale net electricity generation comes from nonhydroelectric renewable sources, mostly wind and biomass.82 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, from more than 100 wind turbines with over 60 megawatts of generating capacity.83,84,85 Wind farms are located primarily along the southern and western coasts and on the Railbelt grid.86,87 Increasing numbers of small wind energy facilities, including some wind-diesel hybrid systems, provide power to rural communities throughout the state.88

Some of Alaska's biomass fuels, which include wood, sawmill wastes, fish byproducts, and municipal waste, are used to generate most of the remaining one-fourth of Alaska's nonhydroelectric renewable power. 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.89 Wood is an important renewable energy resource for Alaskans, with more than 100,000 cords burned every year for residential space heating.90 The state also has one wood pellet manufacturer, located near Fairbanks, which has a production capacity of 30,000 tons per year.91,92,93 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.94

Alaska is one of nine states that produces electricity from geothermal resources.95 Alaska's single geothermal power plant, the 400-kilowatt geothermal power plant at Chena Hot Springs, was built in 2006.96 Several more geothermal projects are in development.97 A major challenge is that much of Alaska's geothermal resources are located in remote areas, far from population centers that would consume the electricity generated.98

Despite Alaska's high latitude and long winter nights, solar energy plays 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.99,100 Alaska's largest solar farm came online in October 2018, a nearly 1,800-solar panel, 563-kilowatt project located south of Fairbanks.101

Energy on tribal lands

Alaska has more territory held as tribal lands than any other state—over 44 million acres.102 Almost all Alaskan tribal land is owned outright by 12 regional native corporations encompassing 229 tribal groups.103 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.104,105 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. The state's tribal lands also have renewable energy resources.107,108,109,110 Almost one-fourth of Alaska's 129 million acres of forested land is controlled by native corporations, and provide the tribes with vast biomass resource potential. Almost two-thirds of the timber harvested in Alaska comes from native corporations' land.111 Seventy percent of the revenue earned from timber, oil, minerals, and other natural 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.112 The corporations have formed many business subsidiaries that involve Native Alaskans in the development of their energy resources, including oil 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. 113

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy provided nearly $2 million in funding to help pay for a 900-kilowatt wind turbine that will provide electricity to two Native Alaskan rural communities. The new turbine will also increase the voltage on the transmission lines of a separate tribal land micro grid.114

Endnotes

1 State of Alaska, Alaska Kids' Corner, Geography of Alaska, accessed October 18, 2018.
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4 World Population Review, U.S. States Ranked by Population 2018 and U.S. States by Density 2018, accessed October 4, 2018.
5 Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Alaska Population Overview, 2016 Estimates, Population Centers, 2016 Population and Density (December 2017), p. 5-6.
6 State of Alaska, Alaska Kids' Corner, Economy, accessed October 4, 2018.
7 Alaska Oil and Gas Association, The Role of the Oil and Gas Industry in Alaska's Economy, State Taxes and Royalties (May 2017), p. 5.
8 Alaska Department of Revenue, Permanent Fund Dividend Division, accessed October 4, 2018.
9 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), Top 100 U.S. Oil & Gas Fields (March 2015), p. 5, 8.
10 National Climate Assessment, Alaska, Introduction, accessed October 4, 2018.
11 U.S. EIA, U.S. Coal Reserves, Table 15. Recoverable Coal Reserves at Producing Mines, Estimated Recoverable Reserves, and Demonstrated Reserve Base by Mining Method (November 2, 2018).
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13 U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, WINDExchange, Wind Energy in Alaska, Maps & Data, accessed October 4, 2018.
14 U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Lab, Geothermal Prospector, accessed October 4, 2018.
15 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C3, Primary Energy Consumption Estimates, 2016.
16 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C13, Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2016.
17 U.S. EIA, U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2016, Table 6 (February 13, 2018).
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23 Moriarty, Kara, The State of the Oil & Gas Industry, Alaska Oil & Gas Association (August 2, 2016), slide 6.
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35 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table F15, Total Petroleum Consumption Estimates, 2016.
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44 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation from all sectors, Alaska, 2017.
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47 U.S. EIA, U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Proved Reserves, Year-end 2016, Table 10 (February 13, 2018).
48 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Gross Withdrawals, Annual-Million Cubic Feet, 2012-17.
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50 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Summary, Alaska, Production, Repressuring, 2012-17.
51 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption by End Use, Alaska, Lease Fuel, Annual, 2012-17.
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54 Phillips, Aaron, "ConocoPhillips to Unload Kenai Facility," Investopedia (December 6, 2016).
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56 Brehmer, Elwood, "ConocoPhillips Putting LNG Plant in Deep Freeze," Alaska Journal of Commerce (July 13, 2017).
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60 Brehmer, Elwood, "AGDC chooses route for Kenai Spur Highway around LNG plant," Alaska Journal of Commerce (September 19, 2018).
61 U.S. EIA, U.S. Coal Reserves, Table 15 (November 2, 2018).
62 Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Mining, Land & Water, Coal Regulatory Program, Coal Mining in Alaska, accessed October 16, 2018.
63 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.
64 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2017 (November 2, 2018), Table 15, Recoverable Coal Reserves at Producing Mines, Estimated Recoverable Reserves, and Demonstrated Reserve Base by Mining Method, 2017.
65 U.S. EIA, U.S. Coalbed Methane (July 2007).
66 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.
67 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Report 2017 (November 2, 2018), Table 1, Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type, 2017 and 2016.
68 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Distribution Report 2017 (November 5, 2018), Domestic and foreign distribution of U.S. coal by origin State, Alaska, and Domestic distribution of U.S. coal by origin State, consumer, destination and method of transportation, Alaska, Table OS-2. Domestic Coal Distribution, by Origin, State, 2017,
69 McDowell Group, Statewide Socioeconomic Impacts of Usibelli Coal Mine, Inc. (January 2015), p. 11-12.
70 Usibelli Coal Mine, accessed October 16, 2018.
71 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors, annual, Alaska, 2017.
72 Koenig, Ravenna, "In Interior Alaska, reinvestment in coal power runs counter to national trend," Alaska Public Radio (October 9, 2018.)
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74 Alaska Center for Energy and Power, Alaska Energy Wiki, Railbelt, accessed October 17, 2018.
75 Alaska Energy Authority, PCE Program Fact Sheeting, accessed October 17, 2018.
76 Fay, Ginny, Alejandra Villalobos Meléndez, and Corinna West, Alaska Energy Statistics, 1960-2011, Final Report (December 2013), p. 6-8.
77 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.
78 U.S. EIA, Electric Power Monthly (February 2018), Table 1.5.B.
79 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 22.
80 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors, annual, Alaska, 2017.
81 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 11-12.
82 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors, annual, Alaska, 2017.
83 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 17.
84 U.S. EIA, Electricity Data Browser, Net generation for all sectors, annual, Alaska, 2017.
85 American Wind Energy Association, Wind Energy in Alaska, accessed October 17, 2018.
86 Kodiak Electric Association, Generation, accessed October 17, 2018.
87 Golden Valley Electric Association, Eva Creek Wind Project, accessed October 17, 2018.
88 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 16.
89 Alaska Energy Authority, Fish Oil & Biodiesel, accessed October 17, 2018.
90 Alaska Energy Authority, Biomass Energy, Wood Energy, accessed October 17, 2018.
91 U.S. EIA, Monthly Densified Biomass Fuel Report, Table 1. Densified biomass fuel manufacturing facilities in the United States by state, region, and capacity, July 2018, Download Excel file.
92 Superior Pellet Fuels, Our Facility, accessed October 18, 2018.
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94 Alaska Energy Authority, Fish Oil & Biodiesel, accessed October 17, 2018.
95 Geothermal Energy Association, 2016 Annual U.S. & Global Geothermal Power Production Report, Figure 7: Developing Planned Capacity Additions & Nameplate Capacity by State (March 2016), p. 17.
96 Alaska Energy Authority, Chena Hot Springs, accessed October 17, 2018.
97 Alaska Energy Authority, Geothermal Projects, accessed October 17, 2018.
98 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 8.
99 Alaska Energy Authority, Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska (April 2016), p. 15.
100 Maguire, Sean, "Major solar panel project nears completion in Willow," KTUU-TV (August 27, 2018).
101 Golden Valley Electric Association, "GVEA Commissions Alaska's Largest Solar Farm" Press Release (October 12, 2018).
102 U.S. Forest Service, Forest Service National Resource Guide to American Indian and Alaska Native Relations, FS-600 (April 1997), Appendix D: Indian Nations, p. D-3.
103 U.S. Department of the Interior, Indian Affairs, Alaska Region Overview, accessed October 18, 2018.
104 Native American Science Curriculum, Alaska Native Land Claims & Tribal Sovereignty Issues, accessed October 18, 2018.
105 United States Government Accountability Office, Increased Use of Alaska Native Corporations' Special 8(a) Provisions Calls for Tailored Oversight (April 2006) p. 1-2, 9.
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