August 5, 2005

August 5, 2005 | Commentary on

ANWR: This is Not a Drill

Although the energy bill Congress recently passed doesn't address the issue, drilling for oil on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska is sure to come up in budget discussions. Given the current energy situation in the United States, as well as our relationship with overseas oil providers, it's imperative that we find the oil in ANWR and bring it back.

Both sides have presented their "facts" on the issue, but if one looks at ANWR's true pluses and minuses, it's obvious that people in Alaska, as well as those in the Lower 48, would benefit from extracting these oil reserves.

The current proposal before the House of Representatives would allow for exploration on 2,000 of the 19 million acres of ANWR. These do not have to be contiguous and can be connected by pipelines. However, this acreage is limited to the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain. Given these numbers, we would "sacrifice" 0.01 percent of the refuge for the benefit of between 5.7 and 16 billion barrels of oil, according to the Energy Department.

This oil would be pumped south through the existing Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, which can carry as much oil as we import from the Persian Gulf every day. Taking the mean estimate of 10.4 billion gallons of oil in ANWR, opening the area for exploration would allow the pipeline to pump at full capacity for 24 years, giving the U.S. a reserve amount that would allow for freedom to supplement our importation of oil with this supply.

Not only would Americans benefit from this oil in a time of tight supply and rapidly rising prices, the development will create between 250,000 and 750,000 jobs. Oil won't start heading south for five to seven years, but the job creation would begin almost immediately. Along with these jobs, we could expect more investment in domestic resources and less money spent on foreign oil. Money now spent abroad will stay home, benefiting domestic suppliers and employers.

Anytime we consider drilling for oil in a wilderness area, protection of wildlife must be taken into account. Opponents claim this development would devastate caribou herds in the area. Yet evidence from the Prudhoe Bay development shows that the herds have grown in size since drilling began there nearly 30 years ago. This is particularly relevant given that ANWR development would occur along the same coast as Prudhoe Bay and affect much of the same wildlife.

Similar, if not more, consideration must go to the effects drilling would have on human inhabitants, particularly -- in this case -- the Gwich'in Indians and the Inupiat Eskimos. The Gwich'in oppose the drilling because they claim it will destroy their food source, and the Inupiat favor it because they see economic advantage to the entire region. The difference is that the Inupiat actually live in and around the region to be drilled, and the Gwich'in live farther south and east, outside of the area designated for drilling and, in many cases, across the border into Canada.

Moreover, the Gwich'in people don't always oppose drilling, not if there might be a buck in it for them. They signed a release in 1980 giving the Rougeot Oil and Gas Corporation drilling rights to their lands. They also recently formed a group to explore Canadian lands for oil.

With wildlife safety ensured, some provisions nevertheless should be included to preserve the aesthetic value of this Alaskan region. For example, oil companies should be required to remove their equipment once a drill site has been declared idle. The physical costs to the land should last only as long as the benefits derived from it.

Although certainly not the answer to all of our energy problems, these reserves will help significantly to alleviate U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But this project would take time, too much time, according to opponents who claim we'll have to endure immense costs before any oil flows our way. However, if President Clinton hadn't vetoed a bill in 1995 that would've permitted exploration of ANWR, we'd be reaping the benefits of this domestic production today. The only costs we're enduring now are the opportunity costs of delaying use of this resource.

Benjamin Pauluhn, a senior at Furman University in Greeneville, S.C., is an H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation intern at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).

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