- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2000

With gasoline prices at their highest level in a decade and U.S. oil reserves at an all-time low, it is time to consider the exploration of perhaps one of America's greatest untapped oil reserves, those in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Within that South Carolina-sized area in the Alaskan wilderness, 1.5 million acres along the northern Arctic coast near Prudhoe Bay have been set aside for potential resource development. According to the Department of Energy, "The area contains the largest onshore, unexplored, potentially productive geologic basins in the United States." The U.S. Geological Survey, updated May 2000, estimated that the area might contain up to 16 billion barrels of oil five years of U.S. imports.
And yet, ANWR has been off limits. The area is also known as a caribou nursery, where a vast herd spends six weeks each summer giving birth and fattening up for the winter. Opponents of development claim that it could have a negative impact on the caribou and thus, on the Indians who depend on them for sustenance.
Yet judging by the oil fields in Pruhoe Bay, the exact opposite is far more likely to be true. Since 1975, the Western Arctic Herd (of caribou) has grown by nearly 400 percent, from under 100,000 to over 450,000. According to Oliver Leavitt, chairman of the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. (ASRC), a group representing 8,000 pro-development Eskimos, "We found the caribou are adaptable. The herds grew. None of it went away. We found responsible oil development is compatible with our traditional life."
Besides, America needs the oil. Sen. Frank Murkowsi, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and a proponent of ANWR development, recently told reporter Tom Carter of The Washington Times, who recently returned from exploring the subject in Alaska's northern reaches: "Now we are at 56 percent-plus on imports. Our increased dependence (on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) is like being set up to be blackmailed."
Yet more is at stake than caribou or even national security: The lives of the Native Americans scratching out a living in the area could be dramatically improved by such exploration. Mr. Rexford, head of the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. in Kaktovik, located within the development area said, "The future is pretty bleak unless they let us drill for oil on our lands."
They should. Native Americans should be permitted to exercise their property rights by exploring the energy potential of the ANWR especially when all Americans could benefit.

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