Once delivering 2.1 million barrels of oil a day to the United States, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, one of the world’s largest pipeline systems, now carries about one-third of that.

Although the pipeline collects oil from several fields, falling production in those fields could eventually cause the pipeline to shut down. If the flow falls below a certain level—estimates vary from 350,000 barrels per day to 200,000 barrels per day—cold temperatures can cause ice buildup and corrosion. The real question, though, is how to meet America’s energy needs. One way to prevent this is to increase access to the vast amount of reserves Alaska holds.

The Alaska North Slope Production Act, also known as TAPS II, calls on the federal government to begin the process of extending the pipeline to the North Slope of Alaska so the United States can take advantage of the natural resources needed to fuel the economy.

The goal of the TAPS II legislation, written by Governor Sean Parnell (R) of Alaska, is to bring in one million barrels of oil a day in the next 10 years. He asks the Department of Interior and the Department of Energy to outline a plan that will be carried out cooperatively with the state of Alaska. The plan, according to Parnell, should allow exploration in areas that are currently off-limits. The objective should not be to increase production by a set amount or use federal financial incentives to increase production; rather, it should be to open access to oil reserves in Alaska and prohibit unneeded delays.

To that effect, the legislation also seeks to reform the permit process. If it passes, a time limit will be placed on the authorization of drilling permits, and time limits that already exist will be shortened. Regulations placed by the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Interior designed to “protect the environment” have essentially stopped new natural resource development. Shell paid the federal government $2 billion for a lease and invested $1.5 billion for exploration in Alaska, but it has not been able to drill a single well.

As countries like India and China emerge and use more oil, global demand is only going to increase. The only way to meet the demand is by increasing supply. If it makes economic sense to do so, the U.S. should open access to oil and gas exploration here at home. Alaska alone is a critical resource. According to Representative Doug Lamborn (R–CO), Chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, “Offshore Alaska is estimated to hold at least 27 billion barrels of oil and 132 trillion cubic feet of natural gas…Onshore, there are potentially an additional 14 billion barrels of oil just waiting for development.”

Policymakers in Washington have also recognized the need to tap into Alaska’s resources. The National Petroleum Reserve Alaska Act, recently submitted by Representative Doc Hastings (R–WA), also calls for an end to the lengthy permit process. If passed, Interior will be required to have at least one lease sale a year in the Natural Petroleum Reserve area of Alaska. It will also have to approve drilling permits in 60 days and infrastructure permits in 6 months.

Lamborn recently stated that “in Alaska alone, the oil and natural gas industry supports over 43,000 American jobs and comprises 60 percent of the state’s wealth. Utilizing these resources will help decrease our foreign dependence, create jobs and keep revenue here in the U.S.”

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which has delivered more than 16 billion barrels of oil to the United States, will likely shut down if capacity does not increase. Increasing access to oil reserves in the U.S., both onshore and offshore, would help offset rising demand, increase jobs, and stimulate the economy. The United States should allow access to easily recoverable domestic oil and remove unnecessary restrictions that prevent exploration and development.

Co-authored with Laura Stanley, a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm.