Alaska Editorial: Focus on gas line right now and not ANWR

Posted: Monday, March 24, 2008

This editorial appeared in the Anchorage Daily News

On the face of it, Alaska's senators look like they have a promising tactic. If oil prices reach $125 a barrel and drivers are gasping to fill up at $4 a gallon, they figure oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge gets a little more traction in Congress.

As Americans clamor for something to be done, the coastal plain's "cathedral" status among environmentalists loses its power among less ardent drilling foes. Drilling wins approval and away we go.

Trouble is, ANWR isn't the answer to $125 oil, not for a nation with a colossal energy appetite but without a coherent energy policy. Even with prices that high, drilling in ANWR wouldn't give Americans a penny of relief from high energy costs until sometime late in the next decade.

ANWR's oil wouldn't come on line for eight to 10 years. By that time the United States and the rest of the world could be in a different world of energy economics.

Alaska and the rest of the nation would be better off if that world included much higher mileage standards, Alaska natural gas hitting the U.S. market, more alternative energy sources and some intelligent response to market forces - hey, how about buying that 36 mpg rig rather than that crew-cab truck that makes the Saudis smile as it sucks a C-note out of your wallet with each stop at the pump.

The Daily News has backed exploratory drilling in ANWR to find out what (if any) oil is there. That way, Congress can make an intelligent decision about the benefits and drawbacks of full-scale development.

But Alaska's two senators face the simple reality that opposition to ANWR drilling remains strong and isn't likely to cave even at $125 oil. Any relief ANWR might provide would be too long in coming, and it can't match what Americans can do right now to cut energy costs and consumption and still improve our standard of living.

The idea that revenue from ANWR would go toward alternative energy development has appeal, but alternative energy development has appeal of its own and shouldn't depend on ANWR revenue to proceed.

The country would be better off getting an Alaska natural gas pipeline built and getting the huge storehouse of North Slope gas into hungry U.S. markets. There's no bruising congressional battle to fight over that one; the gas line has broad support.

ANWR's time may come. Or it may have come and gone. Restarting the fight now isn't going to gain anything for Alaska or the nation.

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