Alaska must make case for ANWR oil exploration

Posted: Monday, April 30, 2001

The following editorial was published April 25 in the Anchorage Daily News:

If Alaska is to win its battle to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development, we'll have to make a better case to the rest of the country.

We understand that some in Congress oppose drilling on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because they genuinely fear damage to the habitat and the wildlife that depends on it. We understand that some people want to leave some places untouched by commercial development. Most Americans, Alaskans included, do.

But we also know that Alaska often has faced an uphill battle in trying to develop its own resources and provide decent livelihoods for its people because of its conception in the minds of some of our neighbors as a vast national park - and their conception of us as ruthless exploiters unable to comprehend or conserve the natural blessings we have.

We disagree with those views. We support exploratory drilling in the refuge.

We know that ANWR's oil reserves, unless grossly underestimated, will make little difference in the continued dependence of the United States on foreign oil sources. We know, too, that oil production in ANWR will have precious little to do with gasoline prices.

At the same time, we believe that drilling can go on in ANWR with safeguards for calving caribou and other wildlife, with a determination to make as light a landing as possible. The benefit for Alaska can be continued prosperity and a stronger state treasury - with minimal damage to the refuge.

But as Sen. Ted Stevens said this week, the votes aren't there in Congress to open ANWR to drilling.

The senator's sense of history - and personal history - gives him a good perspective. Alaska hasn't had a cakewalk to any of its goals in the last half century. Over time, as Sen. Stevens said, the state prevailed. The opening of ANWR will take time as well.

Whether Alaskans like it or not, the nation as a whole has a say about what goes on in the refuge. It's not just our land. It's national land. That means we have to make our case to the rest of the country.

For some people, ANWR is a vast, natural cathedral, and you don't drill in a cathedral. To them the amount of oil in ANWR is irrelevant. They will not be persuaded. Some Alaskans are in this camp, too.

Others see ANWR as a vast, beautiful, wild place. They want to protect it. They might favor, or at least allow, drilling if they're convinced drilling can be done without hurting that wild place.

That's the case Alaska must make.

Politics, not persuasion, may have more to do with a final decision on ANWR. Prospects under President Bush are better than they were under President Clinton, who made clear his veto was ready. And the volatility of oil markets and international relations may tilt more Americans toward drilling.

But as it stands now, we still have work to do.

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