What a ban on Russian oil could mean for Alaska
Update Tuesday, March 8:
President Joe Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports Tuesday morning amid mounting political pressure. He said the change was likely to raise prices at the pump for Americans but called it "another powerful blow to Putin's war machine."
The ban also applies to Russian natural gas and coal.
Original story Monday, March 7:
Sanctions on Russia have been a talking point among state and national legislators.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are among a group of senators pushing to ban Russian energy imports from the U.S. amid its ongoing attacks in Ukraine. In Juneau, the Alaska State Senate is making a similar ask.
The ethos of the proposed federal legislation is to cripple Russia’s economic power. Alaska, Hawaii and the West Coast of the U.S. together get between 300,000 and 7 million barrels of oil from Russia every month, according to data from the Energy Information Administration.
Not a lot of that supply heads to Alaska, though there is at least one facility in Alaska that has historically included Russian crude among its foreign imports — the Marathon Refinery in Kenai.
But Marathon isn't currently importing Russian crude to power the refinery, said Kara Moriarty, head of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. She said the facility stopped importing from the country around last year, though she isn't exactly sure why.
“I just know at this time there are no Russian imports to Alaska I’m aware of," she said.
Jamal Kheiry, a spokesperson from Marathon Petroleum, said the company doesn’t comment on its crude sourcing, besides the fact that it processes “mainly Alaska domestic crude along with limited international crude to manufacture gasoline, distillates, heavy fuel oil, asphalt and propane.”
Moriarty said refineries like the Kenai facility will make decisions about where they source imports based on demand and the type of crude they need.
She guesses those factors — not the current crisis in Ukraine — were to blame for the change.
“Those circumstances change pretty fluidly," she said. "And so I don’t know any rationale for recent, but I know that’s been some of the rationale in the past.”
Former Marathon Plant Manager Mark Necessary said he remembers importing some Russian crude during his time at the plant, between the 1970s and ’90s. At that time, the refinery was under different ownership.
Russian oil and gas have stayed immune from sanctions from the U.S. so far, though some large oil and gas companies have separately promised to stop imports from the country. The Biden administration said Monday it hasn’t yet made a decision on whether it will ban Russian oil imports to the U.S.
In a Senate speech last week, Sullivan quoted Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs who had urged countries to implement full embargoes on Russian oil and gas
“'Buying Russian oil and gas right now means paying for the murder of Ukrainian men, women and children.' That’s the foreign minister of Ukraine," Sullivan said. What he’s asking for is something we can easily do."
He suggested that the U.S. could fill in the gaps in production left by such an embargo.
Moriarty said it’s too soon to tell what a ban on Russian oil could mean for Alaska’s own production.
“Because no one knows for certain how long this conflict is going to last," she said. "No one knows the ramifications, depending on how long this is going to last. Does this open a market for us and for gas and North Slope gas? Again, I think it’s just too soon to tell.”
Marathon is the biggest U.S. importer of Russian crude, according to energy news source Oil Price.