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It’s time to support ANWR drilling

By Paul Driessen
web posted December 19, 2005

The budget reconciliation bill recently passed by the US Senate would finally open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. Environmentalists are “outraged,” while most Democrats in the House of Representatives plan to go against their constituents’ best interests by voting against drilling.

Sadly, that’s to be expected. What’s amazing is that a number of House Republicans are likewise saying they intend to vote to lock up ANWR’S vast energy resources. They’re supposed to understand market forces and energy economics – at least better than their colleagues across the aisle. And yet they are planning to cast “nay” votes precisely when global demand for petroleum is soaring, energy prices are reaching all-time highs, and winter heating bills will make it increasingly difficult for poor people to heat and eat.

That any responsible member of Congress could vote against this energy development legislation underscores the ideological blinders worn by drilling opponents, the vast misinformation that still dictates discussions about this issue, and the refusal of elected officials even to acknowledge the cumulative effects of “environmental protection” rules enacted over many decades – much less do anything about them.

Many votes against drilling will come from California, Northeastern and Midwestern legislators who have made a career of railing against high energy prices, “obscene” oil company profits, unemployment and balance of trade deficits – while simultaneously doing everything possible to constrict supplies, increase demand and drive up prices. For instance, air quality rules – coupled with a virtual prohibition on building new nuclear plants – mean that most new electrical generating plants are gas-fired. So demand for natural gas continues to climb, while domestic supplies continue to decrease.

But these same legislators have consistently opposed natural gas (and oil) development in Alaska , off the East Coast, off the Florida coast, along the Pacific Coast , in the Great Lakes , throughout the western states, and in any other areas where petroleum might actually be found.

They apparently believe it’s OK to drill in other countries, even in sensitive areas in other countries. It’s likewise appropriate to buy crude from oil-rich dictators (especially when offered at a discount by Venezuelan despots), send American jobs and dollars overseas, reduce US royalty and tax revenues, imperil industries that depend on petroleum, and blanket habitats with “ecologically friendly” wind turbines and solar panels. However, drilling in the USA , even for natural gas, is strictly verboten.

This is truly political theater of the absurd.

ANWR, government geologists say, could hold up to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil. That’s 30 years’ of imports from Saudi Arabia . Turned into gasoline, it would power California ’s entire vehicle fleet for some 50 years. The area’s natural gas could fuel Florida, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin generating plants for a decade or more.

At $50 a barrel, ANWR crude would eliminate the need to import $800 billion worth of foreign oil, create up to 700,000 American jobs, and generate hundreds of billions in royalties and taxes.

Bringing this oil online would have another vital benefit. As Prudhoe Bay and nearby oil reserves decline, a point will be reached where there isn’t enough to keep the Trans-Alaska Pipeline running at capacity. That would mean enormous quantities of otherwise recoverable oil will be left in the ground, instead of fueling our economy. New supplies from ANWR would ensure that our oil lifeline remains open.

Caribou at Prudhoe
Caribou at Prudhoe

But all that is irrelevant, insist environmental purists in and out of Congress. Energy development would “irreparably destroy” the refuge, they assert. Caribou droppings.

ANWR covers 19 million acres, an area equivalent to South Carolina . Of this, only 2,000 acres – scattered in small parcels across the “coastal plain” – would actually be disturbed by drilling and development, thanks to modern directional drilling technologies. That’s 0.01% of the refuge, one-twentieth of Washington , DC – or 20 of the buildings Boeing uses to manufacture 747 jets!

The potentially oil-rich area is flat, treeless tundra – 3,500 miles from DC and 50 miles from the beautiful mountains seen in all the deliberately misleading anti-drilling photos. During eight months of winter, when drilling would take place, virtually no wildlife are present. Only oil field workers are crazy enough to remain outdoors when temperatures drop to minus 40 F, the tundra turns rock solid, and that chaw of tobacco they spit out freezes before it hits the ground.

However, these unforgiving conditions mean drilling can be done with ice airstrips, roads and platforms. In the spring, they’ll all melt, leaving only puddles and little holes. The caribou will return – just as they have for years at the nearby Prudhoe Bay and Alpine oil fields – and do just what they always have: eat, hang out and make babies. In fact, Prudhoe’s caribou herd has increased from 6,000 head in 1978 to 32,000 today. Other Arctic wildlife will also return, along with the Alaska state bird, Mosquito giganteus (which locals claim can carry off rabbits and small dogs).

Vast oil and gas potential, in a distant, mostly desolate area. Unprecedented global demand for petroleum. Soaring energy prices that hurt productivity, prosperity and the poor. Modern technological marvels that enable us to find and develop petroleum resources with no significant environmental impacts. Jobs, revenues and reduced dependence on foreign sources. Ensuring that we can recover all the oil we’ve already discovered along Alaska ’s North Slope .

The benefits are many and obvious. The negatives few. Finding and producing ANWR’s oil ought to be a slam-dunk. The fact that so many congressmen (and senators) can’t bring themselves to support drilling there – or anywhere else in or off our 50 states – ought to make every American question the analytical skills of the people they’ve sent to Washington.

Every thoughtful taxpayer and voter ought to tell their representatives: These oil and gas resources are vital to our future. It’s time to end the obstruction and political posturing. It’s time to drill in ANWR.

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power ∙ Black death (www.Eco-Imperialism.com). © 2005 Paul K. Driessen

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