FAIRBANKS -- The day after Al Gore and George W. Bush debated whether to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a congressman stood on the floor of the U.S. House and delivered what would no doubt be surprising news for many Alaskans.
The majority of people in the 49th state, he said, don't want ANWR drilled.
"We have talked about (how) 70 percent of the American public opposes drilling here, as advocated by Gov. Bush," said Rep. Earl Blumenauer, an Oregon Democrat. "I find even more interesting that Alaskans, who would stand to benefit from the oil drilling have a slight majority, according to the public opinion polls, that oppose drilling in this precious area."
Make that one poll. And the man who directed the poll says it supports no such conclusion.
Ivan Moore of Anchorage has conducted the poll in question for the past three years for the Alaska Conservation Alliance, an umbrella group of environmental groups. His results, at first glance, might seem to support Blumenauer's statement.
His firm asked a random sample of Alaskans whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be protected from oil drilling."
For the past three years, the results have been consistent. About half agree and half disagree. In 1998 however, the year Blumenauer noted, 47 percent actually agreed, while 46 percent did not.
Based on Moore's results, the alliance in August issued a news release saying that "Alaskans are split in their opinions about oil development in the Arctic refuge..."
"These polls over the past several years show that nearly as many Alaskans support protection of the Arctic refuge as those who don't," said Mary Core, the alliance's director. "We in Alaska are not of one mind on drilling for oil in the Arctic refuge, as our congressional delegation would have us believe."
Moore, however, has a different take on his work.
"The only thing that they can say from that result is a good portion of Alaskans think ANWR should be 'protected' from oil drills. That doesn't necessarily mean they should be kept out," he said.
Different Alaskans, Moore explained, have different ideas about what the word "protected" means. Some think it means keeping all oil drills out of ANWR. Others, however, think it means preventing the drills from hurting the environment while there.
"Those two, in people's minds, are not necessarily in conflict," Moore said. "People are very favorable toward responsible, environmentally sound, low-impact development in ANWR."
But Mike Coumbe, Alaska director for the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, said he thinks Moore's explanation is a stretch. It's not factual to deny a conflict between oil development in ANWR and the Porcupine Caribou Herd, migratory birds and plant communities, Coumbe said, and the people being polled know that.
"If you say 'protected from,' it doesn't sound like you're saying 'protect it, but have oil development there,' " said Coumbe, whose organization is a member of the alliance.
But Moore said the differing interpretations of "protect" are the only way to explain why his results differ from other polls showing 70 percent support drilling.