This editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:
It was clear before Gov. Sean Parnell wrote the secretary of Interior in May asking about seismic exploration in a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that the answer would be “no.”
As Interior Secretary Sally Jewell put it, the Obama administration opposes drilling in the refuge and believes the exploratory activity proposed by Parnell requires congressional approval.
With White House opposition and no chance of getting Congress to approve any exploratory activity, the governor’s proposal to begin exploration may seem like a pointless action.
But it is not.
There is a provision in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act that outlines how applications for exploration plans are to be handled by the federal government. The Obama administration argues that this provision expired in 1987, though the law does not make a flat declaration to that effect.
The Parnell administration says the provision did not expire in 1987. There is detailed language in the law that directs the federal government to decide, within 120 days of the receipt of an exploration plan, if that plan is consistent with the guidelines in federal law.
The question of whether this authority expired in 1987 could become the central point in a future court fight between the state and federal governments, an argument that we believe is worth pursuing.
It is important for the state to keep making the case that oil exploration on a portion of ANWR is in the nation’s interest and that we really ought to understand the size of the potential resource. There are competing national interests at stake, and it is inaccurate to contend that this is either all about oil or all about wilderness values.
The 1.5-million-acre coastal plain of ANWR, which is part of the 19-million-acre refuge, contains the largest unexplored geologic basins in the nation. The underlying rocks are similar to those found to the west at Prudhoe Bay, the largest oil field ever found in North America.
We can’t possibly make an informed decision about ANWR oil development until we know for sure how much oil exists. The governor’s course of action is a sound one.