Pipeline problems are reason to open ANWR

Posted: Monday, August 21, 2006

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

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Opponents of oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge wasted little time spouting "we told you so" and drawing a 30-mile arrow directly from the coastal plain to BP's woes in Prudhoe Bay this week.

But that arrow should curl right back around and point to ANWR as a place that should have been producing oil for years.

Especially now, critics argue, petroleum industry irresponsibility should not be rewarded with the opening of ANWR. BP especially, touting a greener-than-others approach, should be rewarded least of all.

But ANWR exploration and development is not a reward for BP or any other oil company. It is something that is important for Alaska and for the United States, no matter what companies ultimately purchase the leases.

For its part, BP is no more environmentally responsible than any other oil company. It is exercising the wisdom of advancing natural gas production and exploration of alternative fuel sources, which some would say is environmentally responsible. It also simply seems like good business practice for an energy company. BP recognizes the need to diversify, so should our country.

Recent history, the 250,000 gallon BP spill in March and the Prudhoe shutdown included, demonstrates the need to diversify our domestic energy sources in terms of oil, natural gas, and development of so-called alternative energy. ANWR reserves should be a part of that diversification.

Critics are saying that oil companies have shown they cannot be trusted on the Slope. BP's problems demonstrate why ANWR can't be developed in an environmentally responsible manner. The majors have argued "trust us" in the past, and they always fail.

Blind trust in oil companies has never been a desired approach. The people of this state do not have that approach to resource development of any kind and are acutely aware of the risks that come with development. Those who lived through the Exxon Valdez spill need no lectures on the topic. Mistakes can be made, and they can be dire.

As with the Exxon spill, we will come through the BP spill and this shutdown with heightened awareness and undoubtedly stricter state and federal monitoring practices. The pipes that leaked and were shut down were some of the oldest on the Slope. We will emerge from this episode with better-regulated, better-understood and better-managed pipelines.

But still, opponents have argued, ANWR is not worth the risk because, in terms of national supply from a world market, its potential reserves amount to "a drop in the bucket."

That's a lot of drops in a lot of buckets, and a lot of dollars from individual wallets.

Still, critics argue, the fragile Arctic cannot sustain the kind of damage wrought by careless development.

No, it can't. No place can.

That's why development of a 2,000-acre footprint on ANWR's 1.5-million-acre coastal plain should be no less responsible than development that could take place on 8.3 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico where, two weeks ago, the Senate voted overwhelmingly (71-25) to lift the Gulf drilling moratorium.

This vote came to pass a full four months after the BP spill in Prudhoe. Only now, with the pipeline shutdown illustrating the need for diversification, are ANWR opponents spinning the arrow back four months to the March spill and the corroded pipe.

The 250,000 gallon spill in Prudhoe in March was a disaster but, as it acted quite literally like molasses in January, it was contained and has been scraped up. Our country should be no more willing to risk development in the oceans we share with the world than we are our own tundra. Yet, our Senate was much more willing to pass the Gulf measure than it ever has been with ANWR.

Why did they do it? The need to diversify our fuel sources is more and more apparent to our country's leaders and because the Gulf borders more than one state that can benefit from the revenue; that's why.

And now the Prudhoe shutdown has come as a stark illustration of just how Alaska's oil impacts our nationwide economy and how urgent it is that the United States increase its domestic energy resources.

All signs point to ANWR as a logical part of that picture.

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