The 32nd US Association of Energy Economics/International Association of Energy Economics brings together a diverse group of delegates and speakers representing private business, government and academia to discuss pressing energy issues of the day.

This year’s event officially kicked off on Monday in Anchorage, Alaska, where the state is enjoying one of its nicest summers in years, which prompted the city’s Mayor Dan Sullivan to joke during opening remarks that solar power opportunities appear plentiful. Anchorage is not typically known for sunny days, even though the sun sets around 11pm this time of year.

On a more serious note, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources – Ranking Member, who addressed the audience via webcast because congress is in session, said industry-government relations are crucial in matters regarding energy and “policies will be decisive in where we get our energy and how much it costs.”

Mayor Sullivan ran down a litany of potential energy resources that could serve the Anchorage area, including North America’s second-highest tides, which present tidal energy opportunities, as well as natural gas reserves, “world class” coal seams, wind power and attractive geothermal opportunities associated with several proximate active volcanoes.

Sullivan pointed out that this abundance of potential energy sources puts Anchorage at an advantage compared with other communities, but also presents a challenge for policy makers who must choose where to deploy political and financial capital to the greatest benefit.

During the opening plenary session on Arctic energy development, Fran Ulmer, Chair of the US Arctic Research Commission said global warming, resource demand and technology create opportunities to produce and deliver energy above the Arctic Circle. Ice retreating from international sea lanes has already caused shipping to quadruple and 200,000 cruise ship tourists are expected to visit the Arctic this summer.

Ulmer said 30% of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13% of its oil are estimated to lie within the Arctic, mostly offshore. But extreme cold, extended periods of darkness, intense storms, remoteness and limited infrastructure make developing those resources extremely challenging. For example, a huge summer cyclone broke up a significant amount of ice last summer and this past October a flash freeze froze an area the size of Pennsylvania in 48 hours.

During the lunch presentations, the USAEE Adelman Frankel Award was presented to Rice University’s Baker Institute Center of Energy Studies, accepted by the program’s director Kenneth B. Medlock III. Then local retired politician and author Jack Roderick discussed Alaska’s oil history, which he said dates back to 1901 when a British consortium drilled a well near an oil seep that produced 15 barrels per day. Today, wells can produce hundreds of thousands of barrels per day.

ARCO (acquired by BP) and Exxon (now ExxonMobil) discovered the Prudhoe Bay field in the late 1960’s and first oil flowed in mid-1977. “BP and Exxon have looked for no new oil,” since then, said Roderick. This is a highly controversial issue in Alaska because the state is very dependent upon oil & gas revenue and production is declining. “In my opinion, we need to get new operators to find more oil,” Roderick said.

He remains optimistic, saying “I think we’re going to find a lot of gas in Cook Inlet,” a large but declining field close to Anchorage.

“We have a terrific future. It’s a great place to live, so come live.”

Keep reading Breaking Energy, a USAEE North American Conference media partner, for additional coverage of important issues including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, global natural gas markets, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and more.