- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 4, 2001

In an effort to alleviate America's increasing dependence on foreign oil and mitigate some of the worst effects of the current power crisis, Sens. Frank Murkowski and John Breaux recently introduced the National Security Energy Act of 2001.

While the bill contains a wide array of provisions, including everything from $1 billion for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to the promotion of alternative fuel vehicles, the most controversial measure calls for opening a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas exploration.

Liberals have already gone to war over the measure, charging that the potential resources in ANWR are negligible, that drilling in ANWR will have calamitous effects on the environment, and that any oil and gas that does come out of the area will arrive too late to solve any of the energy challenges consumers currently face.

Yet such arguments simply don't stand up to the evidence. In the first place, no one actually knows how much oil is available. A 1998 survey by the U.S. Geological Survey estimated that there are between 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels of oil within the area that could be recovered. Even using the low estimate, this would still be enough to supply all of the energy needs of the United States for nearly two-thirds of a year, more than enough to merit further exploration into the ANWR environment.

Moreover, there is little evidence that the environment will be harmed by such activity. The New York Times Science Section recently pointed out that innovations in technology and technique have greatly reduced the environmental "footprint" left by oil exploration in general, and Mr. Murkowski estimates that the development resulting from even a large ANWR oil field would cover only about three square miles. Since drilling began in the Prudhoe Bay oil field, the herds of nearby caribou have greatly increased in size. Populations of nesting migratory birds have also gotten larger, "Over the past 20 years, the population of polar bears has remained exceedingly healthy," according to Mr. Murkowski.

Helping the public is the primary reason for such drilling, even if the oil won't reach the market for months after the first well is capped. In the long-term, oil from ANWR will help lower energy prices, alleviate long-term energy shortages and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

Currently, about 55 percent of America's daily oil consumption of almost 20 million barrels comes from foreign sources 700,000 from Iraq. According to the Department of Energy, this dependence could grow to 64 percent by 2020. By then, the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests, "fully 50 percent of estimated total global oil demand will be met from countries that pose a high risk of internal instability."

America needs long-term solutions to its domestic energy needs and a smart start would be by exploring the resources at ANWR.

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