Outside editorial: Price of gas doesn't justify ANWR drilling

Posted: Wednesday, March 23, 2005

The following editorial appeared in Monday's Milwaukee Journal:

The dumbest argument in favor of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is that gas prices are too high. The simple fact is that opening up the refuge won't change prices by one penny.

For one thing, oil companies won't be able to extract any oil for at least 10 years after construction begins. So the price at your pump won't drop next week because the Senate voted last week to include a drilling measure in the budget.

More important, even when the modest amount of oil in the refuge becomes available in 10 years, prices will see no significant change because the price of crude is determined by a world market driven by spiraling demand in places like China and India, not by how much crude is being supplied from a corner of Alaska.

Senators who use the gas-price argument to justify their vote in favor of drilling are simply pulling a fast one on their constituents. But their scam doesn't stop with that argument.

The worst way to approve drilling in the refuge is to tuck it into a budget bill so that the opposition has less of a chance to raise serious questions and the public has less chance to hear the answers.

It's true that Arctic drilling has been debated long and loud for years, but that only means that opening up the refuge deserves a separate full vote by both houses of Congress.

To their credit, both Wisconsin senators - Democrats Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl - voted against opening the refuge by voting for an amendment that would have stripped drilling revenue from the budget resolution. To the Senate's discredit, not enough of their colleagues joined them.

Critics of drilling say they will continue their fight as the budget resolution moves forward through both houses and a conference committee that will resolve differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget.

They should. Drilling in the refuge would be difficult, expensive and unnecessary. Even some oil companies seem to be losing interest in the place and are looking for more accessible and cheaper places to drill.

The best reason to drill in the refuge is that it could reduce, however modestly, U.S. dependence on foreign oil. That's a worthy goal. But dependence could be far more significantly reduced by cutting back on our consumption of oil and finding alternative sources of power.

As it turns out, that's also the best way to reduce gas prices. Consumers who want to cut back on how much they're paying to fill up their tanks will do what consumers have always done: They'll buy less gas.

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