Alaskans of a certain age can remember a summer day in 1977 when the first oil flowed down the trans-Alaska pipeline to Valdez. That was also the year of the first deposit to the Permanent Fund, approved by voters just the year before. That first deposit was about $700,000.
Before old-timers wax any more historical, let's fast-forward at the speed of Twitter: North Slope oil production has declined from 2 million barrels a day at its peak to about 600,000 barrels today. The Permanent Fund is worth more than $39 billion. Alaska has weathered one major state recession (1980s), the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the oil-price crash of the late '90s, long anxiety about a fiscal gap and the Great Recession that began in 2008.
One constant in all of this has been the mainstay of oil revenues to the state treasury, which have accounted for 85 percent to 90 percent of the state's general funds over those years, running well into the tens of billions.
For decades Alaskans have talked about diversifying our economy, becoming less reliant on fossil fuels. We have not diversified. We still depend on that oil revenue to pay for just about every state endeavor from education to public safety to public health to fish and game management.
That's why two pieces of news Friday were noteworthy.
First, the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration told Alyeska, the oil-company consortium that runs the pipeline, to do some major maintenance and repair work and change some procedures for shutdowns and restarts. Part of the challenge there is to keep oil flowing safely through an aging line at lower volumes that make transmission more difficult. Alyeska and the safety administration don't see eye to eye on everything in the feds' report.
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