- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Connecticut's Joseph Lieberman and Massachusetts' Rep. Ed Markey, who have been peddling their armchair Alaskan wisdom on the Hill, recently opined in a Boston publication that blocking oil exploration in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge would lead to "significantly longer living caribou and elk." For the record, there are no elk in the refuge. Elk are not native to arctic Alaska.

As for caribou, the only herd that shares its range with existing oil facilities is very healthy. A recent state survey shows that this herd has the largest population ever recorded 27,000 and up 35 percent since the last survey in 1997. But facts will never get in the way of important partisan objectives.

Messrs. Lieberman and Markey know as much about oil reserves in the Arctic as they do about elk and caribou in the Arctic. They select a lowball estimate that fits their agenda, ignoring the fact that petroleum geologists believe that the 8 percent of the refuge specifically reserved by Congress (and President Jimmy Carter who is apparently suffering amnesia on the point) for study of oil potential represents North America's largest untapped field which would significantly increase could even double U.S. oil reserves. However, Messrs. Lieberman and Markey see no need to resolve this question because they are appeasing environmental zealots who oppose oil development, period.

Perhaps if the dynamic Democratic duo had not been off stalking the elusive "Arctic Elk" they might have learned something about oil drilling in the Arctic from Lesley Stahl's "60 Minutes" investigation showcasing the improved winter road building and exploration techniques which left not a mark on the tundra the following summer. Perhaps they would have seen Miss Stahl illustrate directional drilling by standing 4 miles from a drilling rig which, though barely visible in the distance, had sunk a well directly underneath her.

With this technology, all the oil underlying 100,000 acres can be produced with equipment situated on a mere 100 acres. Thus, in the entire 1.5 million acres designated for oil study in the refuge, exploration and production pads would total only 2,000 acres and this carried out under rigorous environmental permitting monitored by the local native communities, the state and the federal government against the backdrop of a refuge which is 20 million acres in size with the remainder already designated as wilderness.

Reneging on the congressional compromise which forged the refuge in the first place by acknowledging the importance of continuing to study oil production in a small portion would be an especially irresponsible policy when our reliance on Middle East oil remains the monkey on our back in the Arab-Israeli peace process.

We have a moral duty to leverage conservation efforts already incentivized by today's energy markets and to significantly increase clean coal installations utilizing technology already developed with taxpayers' dollars, to name but a few tenets of a bigger picture.

Renewables may play a part in this picture, but one must recall that, only two decades ago, such luminary policy analysts as James Taylor, in rejecting nuclear power, sang to us of relying on wood fire and water power. Such politically correct analysts portray trees as a non-renewable resources and consider windmills threats to condors in California.

American consumers have now relied on Alaska for 10 percent of U.S. oil consumption for more than 20 years, and Alaska can continue to be a significant source of domestic oil for many years unless the foolish law pushed by Messrs. Lieberman and Markey is enacted. Drilling in Alaska should not be our entire energy policy, but it will be a good start.

Brian Bishop is a Libertarian talk show host and property rights advocate.

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