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Alaskan Drilling: Small Area, Big Potential

Created on July 30, 2008

Alaskan Drilling: Small Area, Big Potential

Why We Should Drill in Alaska's ANWR

  • For a warning against repeating old energy mistakes, click here.
  • To read why supplies should trump new taxes or rules, click here.
  • To learn how speculators help at the gas pump, click here.
  • For an op-ed on the uphill battle to drill, click here.  

              America's single greatest concentration of untapped oil -- an estimated 10 billion barrels -- lies at the northern edge of Alaska's 19 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

          That amount of oil is the equivalent of 15 years of imports from Saudi Arabia. At a million barrels a day, the production potential of this oil-rich sliver of Alaska rivals the combined output of 41 states, according to the Institute for Energy Research.

        Advances in technology have dramatically reduced the environmental impact and risk of spills since 1980, when Congress and President Carter set aside 1.5 million acres of coastal plain in ANWR and directed the government to assess its energy potential.

        Nearly 30 years later, Americans are paying about $4 a gallon for gasoline and the nation depends more than ever on Middle Eastern oil. With the approval of Congress, though, commercial leasing of this frozen, otherwise barren acreage -- already reserved for energy production -- could begin.

        "We need fewer restrictions on domestic oil drilling," says Ben Lieberman, Heritage's senior policy analyst for energy and the environment. "America remains the only oil-producing nation that places a substantial amount of its energy potential off-limits."

        Drilling for oil and gas would occur within a 2,000-acre limit at ANWR -- a tiny .01 percent of the refuge -- and be subject to the world's strictest standards, Lieberman stresses.

        Oil production to the west of ANWR at Prudhoe Bay, initiated in 1977 with less ecologically friendly technology than is required today, has had minimal adverse effect on the local environment and wildlife, he notes.

        More oil waits to be found in restricted areas throughout the United States, as well as in the 85 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf where drilling can't occur unless Congress -- following President Bush's recent lead -- lifts a ban.

        At least 19 billion barrels of oil could be pumped from these offshore sites, the Department of the Interior estimates -- the equivalent of 30 more years of imports from Saudi Arabia. Again, today's technological advances minimize the risk of spills.

        "These technologies were put to the test by the brutal winds and waves of Hurricane Katrina, which tore through the only area where offshore drilling is common but didn't cause a single significant spill," Lieberman writes.