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October 7, 2003

Supply = Security

By

So, we've arrived at halftime in the big game for America's energy security.

Right now, the game is tied. The House of Representatives has approved legislation that includes a provision to explore for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Reserve. The Senate's version does not. The first major energy bill in 10 years has advanced to a House-Senate conference committee, and the outcome will dictate how America meets its energy needs for the next generation.

The stakes are Super Bowl-high. The United States imports 53 percent of its oil today. It uses nearly a fourth of the world's oil-mostly because it generates nearly a fourth of the world's goods and services. Absent a big shot in the arm of domestic supply, the Energy Information Agency predicts the United States will import 64 percent of its oil by 2020 and even more as time goes on.

Those who oppose drilling in ANWR … well, let's back up a second. Actually, what they oppose is drilling in Section 1002 of ANWR. That's all that's been proposed. They oppose establishing one 2,000-acre footprint-about the size of a big-city airport. That area sits in a 1.5-million-acre portion of the 19.5 million-acre refuge. Although just a fraction of the entire reserve, the area that includes 1002 is larger than South Carolina. No matter what happens at Section 1002, the 17.5 million acres that form the balance of ANWR-a legitimate national treasure-would remain untouched by this exploration.

And the part that would be touched? It's a flat, treeless area that is solid ice all winter and mosquito-ridden swamp the other 70 days of the year. The area endures 58 straight days of darkness each year, during which temperatures can hit 70 below zero. Jonah Goldberg, an editor at "National Review Online" who went to the area, writes: "If you wanted a picture to go with the word 'Godforsaken' in the dictionary, ANWR would do nicely."

Moreover, the area's 1,500 inhabitants-who have seen their neighbors to the near north become economically comfortable from a quarter-century of safe, clean oil exploration at the Prudhoe Bay, Sourdough and Kuparuk oil fields-support drilling by 4 to 1.

Give an inch, and oil prospectors will take a mile, argue the opponents. But this argument ignores the fact that federal law prohibits exploration beyond the 1.5-million-acre zone closest to the Beaufort Sea. As a practical matter, modern drilling techniques make creating an above-ground operation larger than the 2,000 acres proposed unnecessary.

Yes, the oil must be transported out, but fears about the damage pipelines do to their environs have been disproved. When the pipeline opened from Prudhoe Bay on the north slope to Valdez in the south, alarmists predicted a quick end for the porcupine caribou herds that inhabit the area. In fact, their number has tripled in the 25 years the pipeline has operated.

But the larger point is that America needs to decrease its dependence on our current suppliers of fuel by maximizing our own production and finding new sources. Look where we have to go in the world for oil-Saudi Arabia, which uses much of the money to fund schools that preach hate against its No.1 customer for crude; Nigeria, a famously unstable country fighting its own internal battle with radical Islam; Iran, which calls us the Great Satan; Russia, with whom our relationship remains less than ideal, and Iraq, where various terrorists seem committed to creating chaos for oil production.

It's more than just the difficulties that face our oil companies. Energy supply is a security issue. And the oil in ANWR would buy a lot of security. Experts say the area has 10.3 billion barrels-perhaps more-of quality crude. That's more than twice what we get from Texas and about seven times what we get from Louisiana, Oklahoma and Wyoming combined.

The more we produce ourselves, the less we have to rely on unstable and often unfriendly countries around the world. We won't be free until we get to the point where we don't need these countries anymore. One day, perhaps we can make up the difference with hydrogen, solar or other sources of power. But for now, what we need is oil. ANWR has it … lots of it. And it's time we start to pump it.

Charli Coon is a senior analyst for energy and the environment at The Heritage Foundation.

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