The U.S. House of Representatives is expected
to vote this week on oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as a provision of the Securing America's
Future Energy Act of 2001 (H.R. 4), a comprehensive energy package.
The proposal, H.R. 2436 (the Energy Security Act), already has been
approved by the House Resources Committee. Regrettably, some
Members of Congress are hoping to delete the provision that
authorizes drilling in ANWR. Such a move would be shortsighted and
misguided. U.S. dependence on foreign oil rose after the Arab oil
embargo in 1973 from approximately 35 percent to more than 52
percent last year. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
predicts that this figure will increase to 64 percent by 2020 if
domestic supplies do not increase.
Drilling in the ANWR will not threaten
that natural preserve and will increase U.S. energy independence.
Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimate that drilling
in ANWR could yield up to 16 billion barrels of oilan amount
roughly equal to 30 years of oil imports from Saudi Arabia. Such a
resource would increase the nation's energy security as well.
Members of Congress should resist any effort to delete oil and gas
exploration in ANWR from H.R. 4.
How much of ANWR
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, located within the
Arctic Circle in northeast Alaska, consists of 19 million acres.
Oil and gas development in the refuge is prohibited by the Alaska
National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (P.L. 96-487)
unless Congress specifically authorizes such activity. In Section
1002 of this act, Congress set aside 1.5 million acres of the
refuge's coastal plain section for potential exploration and
development of oil and gas. In 1995, Congress approved exploration
in the so-called 1002 Area, but President Clinton vetoed that
measure. The debate in Congress today centers solely on this small
section; the remaining 17.5 million acres of ANWR lie in the
protected enclave that cannot be developed.
Moreover, only a tiny amount of the
section proposed for exploration actually would be involved in
drilling. New production technologyincluding multilateral wells
as well as directional drilling and other horizontal underground
drillingwould require the use of only 2,000 acres in the 1002
Area, a parcel no bigger than Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C.,
leaving 99.99 percent of ANWR untouched.
Section 1002 is
not a pristine area
Opponents of drilling in ANWR claim it is the nation's
last true wilderness, a hallowed place, and a pristine
environmental area. Though such attributes describe much of ANWR,
they do not accurately portray the 1002 Area. In a July 20 Washington Times article titled "Hardly a
Pretty Place: Use ANWR for Oil Exploration," Jonah Goldberg, editor
of National Review Online , described
it this way: "[I]f you wanted a picture to go with the word
`Godforsaken' in the dictionary, ANWR would do nicely." He is not
referring to the ANWR parcels often highlighted in the media and on
postcards with picturesque landscapes and endearing wildlife
scenes. Rather, he is describing the flat, treeless, coastal plain
area at the top corner of ANWR where the oil is located. As he
notes in the article, winters on the coastal plain last for nine
months; there is total darkness for 58 consecutive days; and
temperatures drop to 70 degrees below zero without the wind chill.
Summers are not much better. The thick ice melts, but it creates
puddles on the flat tundra and attracts thousands of
Drilling in the 1002 Area would occur
during the harsh winter months, when operations would require the
use of iced airstrips, iced roads, and iced platforms. The 16
billion barrels of oil that lie untapped there would be more than
enough to replace the oil Americans would purchase from Iraq over
Energy Information Administration, in a May 2000 report titled Potential Oil Production from the Coastal Plain
of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Updated Assessment ,
states that the coastal plain region harboring the 1.5 million-acre
1002 Area is "the largest unexplored, potentially productive
onshore basin in the United States."
Section 1002 would not threaten wildlife. Opponents also
allege that drilling in the 1002 Area would adversely affect the
porcupine caribou. These same naysayers predicted similar results
for Arctic caribou in the nearby oil fields of Prudhoe Bay. Since
drilling began there over 20 years ago, the Arctic caribou herd has
grown from 3,000 to 27,500. Nor is there a threat to the polar
bear. Alaska's polar bear population is healthy and unthreatened.
No polar bear has been injured or killed as a result of extracting
oil in Prudhoe Bay. Furthermore, the Marine Mammals Protection Act,
which protects the polar bear in existing oil fields, also would do
so on ANWR's coastal plain.
Donald Lambro notes in "Meeting Demands for Energy," a July 23
article in The Washington Times , oil
production and wildlife have coexisted side-by-side for years. For
example, there are 46 oil wells in the wetlands of Louisiana's
Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, where endangered species such
as the American bald eagle and the Louisiana black bear are
The debate over drilling in Section 1002 of ANWR is not
about destroying one of America's national treasures. The
magnificent mountains, beautiful lakes, and precious wildlife will
not be disturbed. Nor is it about enriching oil companies.
Irresponsible federal policies and indifference by policymakers to
the growing domestic shortages of oil, not the actions of oil
companies, have made the United States more than 50 percent
dependent on foreign oil sources and subject to price volatility.
At issue is whether to use merely 2,000 acres out of a total of 19
million acres in ANWR to ensure the nation's energy security. When
it takes up H.R. 4, the full House should follow the lead of its
Resources Committee, which approved oil and gas exploration and
development in Section 1002 of ANWR's coastal plan, and resist
efforts to delete that provision from the bill. America has much at
stakemost importantly, its national energy security.
Charli E. Coon, J.D., is Senior Policy
Analyst for Energy and the Environment in the Thomas A. Roe
Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage