From the Editor

Oil and gas are the champions of Alaska’s economy, no doubt about it. The state’s history is inextricably intertwined with petroleum exploration and development, at least since the ‘50s.

This month’s cover story, “Making History,” delves into recent efforts to collect narratives of the industry’s impact to exhibit at a hoped-for museum. One of those tidbits informed the cover design; flip to page 63 to learn the connection between an Olympic legend and Alaska oil and gas.

Not the only connection, though. Alaskans might recall another intersection of athletics and the energy industry, in the form of the ARCO Jesse Owens Games. The track meet for youth aged 10 to 15 was first organized in 1965, named for the 1936 gold medalist. Events were held nationwide, but Alaskans were especially fervent participants (if only because, even into the ‘80s, there wasn’t much else for kids to do). The sponsor, Atlantic Richfield Company, had taken the risk of exploring Prudhoe Bay—a risk that paid off handsomely for the company and the state. Wearing an “ARCO Jesse Owens” t-shirt or pin was as much a celebration of Alaska’s economic benefactor as it was in honor of the famed sprinter.

ARCO Alaska disappeared as a company in 2000, when it passed the baton to BP. ARCO’s Alaska headquarters and oil leases still belong to ConocoPhillips Alaska, which has spent the last two decades reaching westward into new frontiers. Read more about those plans in this month’s special section.

An unseen contribution from ConocoPhillips hides inside another article, “The Community Winter Access Trail.” When I learned about the ice road to Utqiaġvik during a visit last summer, my news radar pinged. However, what kept us from immediately writing about it was concern that we’d send tourists roaming the company’s work areas. Turns out, ConocoPhillips assured us, that’s not how the trail works. With that blessing, we’re able to report the story.

Part of the rationale for an oil and gas museum is precisely because tourists don’t traipse through the Oil Patch. The industry is out of sight, out of mind. More than a million visitors each year witness Alaska’s tidewater glaciers and ancient rainforests, then they go home without sharing Alaskans’ sense of urgency to develop the state’s natural resources. A tourist attraction that communicates the importance of oil could nudge the needle of public opinion.

Alaska’s energy industry is hardly barreling toward the finish line; the tape isn’t even in sight. This race is not a sprint, and it’s not even a marathon. It’s a relay, passed from one runner to the next.

Scott Rhode
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Scott Rhode
Editor/Staff Writer, Alaska Business