- Excluding Federal offshore production, Alaska ranks second in the Nation in crude oil production.
- Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope is the highest yielding oil field in the United States, typically producing approximately 400,000 barrels per day.
- The Trans-Alaska Pipeline can pump up to 2.1 million barrels of crude oil per day, more than any other crude oil pipeline in the United States.
- Alaska has six oil refineries, most of which are “topping” plants.
- Alaska’s electricity infrastructure differs from the lower 48 States in that most consumers are not linked to large interconnected grids through transmission and distribution lines. Rural communities rely primarily on diesel electric generators for power.
Resources and Consumption
Alaska has vast energy resources but low energy demand. Major oil and gas reserves are found in the Alaska North Slope (ANS) and Cook Inlet basins. The Alaska North Slope contains 14 of the 100 largest oil fields in the United States, and two of the largest natural gas fields. The North Slope’s Prudhoe Bay field is the largest oil field in the country. Substantial coal deposits are found in Alaska’s bituminous, sub-bituminous, and lignite coal basins. Alaska’s numerous rivers offer some of the highest hydroelectric power potential in the country, and large swaths of the Alaskan coastline offer wind and geothermal energy potential. The oil and gas industry dominates the Alaskan economy, and production activities drive State energy demand. Nevertheless, overall State energy demand is low.
Alaska is the second-ranked oil-producing State (after Texas), if output from the Federal Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is excluded from the State totals. Nearly all of Alaska’s oil production takes place on the North Slope. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) transports crude oil from the frozen North Slope to the warm-water Port of Valdez, on Alaska’s southern coast. From Valdez, tankers ship the ANS crude oil primarily to refineries in California and Washington State. Those refineries are designed to process the intermediate, sour (high-sulfur) crude oil from the ANS. Alaskan crude oil production has been in decline since 1988, when output peaked at over 2 million barrels per day. However, experts believe that large oil and gas reserves in the State remain untapped, and some have called for the Federal government to open more public lands, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for oil exploration and drilling.
Demand for finished petroleum products in Alaska is low. Although Alaska has six refineries, most of them are “topping” plants that strip away lighter products from the TAPS heavy crude oil stream for internal refinery use. State motor gasoline demand is primarily met by refineries in Kenai and near Fairbanks. The use of oxygenated motor gasoline is required in the Fairbanks and Anchorage areas during their winter months. Jet fuel consumption in Alaska is high compared to other States.
Due to harsh weather conditions that persist throughout most of the year, Alaska’s oil infrastructure is particularly vulnerable to weather-related accidents and disruptions. The worst accident occurred in March 1989, when the tank vessel Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef and spilled 260 thousand barrels of oil into the Prince William Sound.
Alaska has substantial marketed natural gas production, most of which takes place in the Cook Inlet, where output is in decline. Although large volumes of natural gas are extracted during oil production on the ANS, this supply has no way of reaching consumption markets and is subsequently pumped back into the ground for repressurization or used as lease fuel to operate equipment at oil production facilities. It has not been considered commercially feasible to build a natural gas pipeline linking ANS natural gas with markets in the Lower 48 States, although two separate consortia have filed project applications with the State of Alaska.
Most of Alaska’s marketed natural gas is consumed at the production site as lease fuel or plant fuel. Less than one-third of Alaska’s marketed natural gas production is delivered to customers. Of these customers, the industrial sector is the largest consumer. Since Alaskan natural gas is abundant and cheap, the State has attracted a petrochemicals industry that produces ammonia and urea fertilizer. In addition, the Kenai liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in the Cook Inlet exports LNG, primarily to Japan. Kenai is the only LNG export terminal in the United States.
Coal, Electricity, and Renewables
Alaska’s electricity infrastructure differs from that of the lower 48 States because most Alaskan consumers are not linked to large, interconnected grids through transmission and distribution lines. While an interconnected grid exists in the populated areas from Fairbanks to south of Anchorage, that grid is isolated from those in Canada and the 48 contiguous States. Rural communities rely on their own power sources, almost exclusively using diesel electric generators.
Natural gas fuels around three-fifths of Alaska’s electricity generation, and hydroelectric power supplies more than one-fifth. Petroleum and coal each account for nearly one-tenth of net electricity generation. More than 50 hydroelectric power plants supply Alaskan communities, and three of those plants are among the ten largest generators in the State. Alaska’s renewable energy sources also include a 200-kilowatt geothermal plant at Chena Hot Springs and two small wind farms in the rural areas of Healy and Kotzebue. Alaskans also operate one of the Nation's largest fuel cell systems, in Anchorage, and the world's largest battery storage system.
See the Energy Information Administration's Energy profile of Alaska for more information on the state's energy use, including data on Economy, Prices, Reserves & Supply, Distribution and Marketing, Consumption, and Environment.
- State Consumption, Prices and Expenditures (SEDS) tables that display comprehensive State data from as early as 1960 to the present
- State Electricity Profiles tables that provide time series data from 1990 forward for key electricity indicators by State
- State Compendium of Nuclear Power Plants State-by-State reports on the nuclear industry
- Natural Gas Residential Choice Programs written overviews of the status of natural gas industry restructuring in each State, focusing on the residential customer class
- Status of Electricity Restructuring by State annotated map showing details of the status of electricity restructuring in each State
- Regional Energy Profiles reports and maps that explore regional variations in U.S. energy consumption
Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the Energy Information Administration. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the Energy Information Administration should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.