Alaska editorial: Arctic refuge critics mischaracterized exploration support

Posted: Friday, March 17, 2006

This editorial appeared in The Ketchikan Daily News:

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To read the special-interest objections to even discussing the concept of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one would think the only people in favor of drilling were a select group of specific special interests that would especially benefit.

Look at this: "Last year, the drilling boosters tried every dirty trick and every back-door maneuver in the book, but they were stopped by the American people and bipartisan leadership in Congress at every turn," says Wilderness Society president Bill Meadows.

Who are these sneaky drilling boosters, exactly?

The Congressional leadership got a letter from them earlier this month.

The signatories include officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Congress of Racial Equality, Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Taxpayers Union, Americans for Tax Reform, Citizens' Alliance for Responsible Energy, American Land Rights Association, National Defense Council Foundation, the 60 Plus Association, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the National Grange, the Energy Stewardship Alliance and, of course, Arctic Power. That's not all, but it gives you an idea.

Sound like a diverse group? Sound like there might be representatives of all sorts of Americans in there?

That shouldn't be surprising, because the majority of U.S. Senators and U.S. Representatives support opening a portion of ANWR for oil and gas exploration, just like their constituents do.

In their joint letter, the groups - and some individuals, including Former Energy (and Interior) Secretary Don Hodel - urge the leadership to open ANWR for exploration, for five reasons:

• "Contrary to claims by environmental pressure groups that the oil and gas ANWR potentially contains are only a few 'drops in the bucket' and that the oil companies are not interested in exploring ANWR's coastal plain, the U. S. Geological Survey's mean estimate of economically recoverable oil and gas reserves under the coastal plain of ANWR is 10.4 billion barrels of crude oil. Such an amount would increase proven U. S. crude oil reserves by 50 percent and is equivalent to approximately a quarter century of current imports from Saudi Arabia, one of our top foreign suppliers," they wrote, adding that the estimates were based on $30 per barrel oil. At $60 a barrel, of course, the economics of recovering reserves economically go up significantly.

• Environmental pressure groups want it both ways: Saying ANWR has a pittance of oil, while claiming drilling there would be a big payoff for "big oil." Which is it? If it's the former, where's the payoff? If it's the latter, the companies would bid and then pay to drill - with royalties going to both the U.S. Treasury and the State of Alaska. "The revenues that will flow into the federal treasury from oil and gas production in ANWR should be compared with the equally colossal expenditures that are necessary to subsidize many of the alternative energy technologies and fuels supported by environmental pressure groups," they write.

• Domestic production for the energy we consume is an obvious advantage, they say - in addition to the boon to our economy and the creation of jobs, American oil would reduce both our dependence on foreign oil and our trade deficit. Does anyone think that's a bad idea?

• ANWR's environment can be protected, and there's compelling evidence to say so. The letter writers note that in ANWR, the drilling activities would take place in 2,000 acres of the 1.5 million-acre coastal plain.

• The federal government should defer to the citizens and their elected representatives when setting federal land policy in states. Three-quarters of Alaskans support opening ANWR, including the Inupiat village of Kaktovik which is on the coastal plan.

"For these reasons," the letter concludes, "we respectfully request that you make enacting budget reconciliation legislation to open the coastal plain of ANWR to oil and gas exploration one of your first and top goals for the second session of the 109th Congress."

Doesn't sound very back-door to us. Sounds like a thoughtful expression of an excellent idea.



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