Outside editorial: Let sleeping ANWR lie

Posted: Wednesday, January 19, 2005

This editorial appeared in Monday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Proponents of opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling are expected to make another push in Congress in the coming months. The idea is that, given November's electoral results, this next legislative session offers backers their best chance. But the curious thing is that the folks one would think would have the most to gain by opening up the refuge may be losing some interest.

Recently, ConocoPhillips, the largest oil producer on Alaska's North Slope, pulled out of a lobbying group pushing for opening up the refuge. The company essentially said it has other priorities, which include developing fields in established areas already open to oil companies and getting approval for a natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Lower 48 states.

The second-largest oil producer in Alaska, BP PLC, pulled out of the lobbying group two years ago. And The Wall Street Journal reports that BP has scaled back its exploration for new fields in Alaska, which ranks as one of the most expensive places for oil production, and that ConocoPhillips has enough big projects lined up in other places to boost its production.

So if opening the refuge is not a high priority for these oil companies, why is it for some members of Congress? The amount of oil that can be extracted from the refuge is not going to solve the nation's energy problems. There are better and cheaper places to get oil. Conservation and improving fuel efficiency would do far more to reduce the nation's reliance on foreign sources of oil. And while the United States may some day need the oil in the refuge, that time is not now, nor is it 10 years from now, the earliest that an oil flow could be produced even if the refuge were opened today.

Drilling would not destroy the last wild place in the United States, as some claim, but that drilling would still leave a footprint - even if only a small one - that would disturb one of nature's gems. Why do that when it isn't necessary and when even those who would make the footprint don't seem particularly interested in doing so?

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