- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 31, 2001

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Americans are asking our government to strengthen national security. The immediate focus must be to secure our homeland from future attacks, but we also must focus on decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. True national security must also take steps to safeguard the long-term health of our economy, the livelihood of America's workers and our environment.
Earlier this year, President Bush sent Congress his National Energy Plan, a blueprint for ensuring America's future against the perils of an unstable world. The plan includes 105 recommendations on improving energy efficiency and conservation, protecting the environment, diversifying our energy supply through development of renewable sources, and reducing our reliance on foreign energy. A bipartisan majority in the U.S. House passed this plan in August. It is imperative the Senate do likewise.
A key component of the president's plan is the development of existing energy resources on federal lands, including the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ANWR is considered the nation's largest potential new oil field and was specially designated by Congress for further study of its oil and gas potential in 1980.
At a time when our country is experiencing an economic downturn, development of this area would give a major boost to our economy and American workers, directly or indirectly creating as many as 735,000 new jobs across the country, including 135,000 construction jobs.
It would also give America greater energy independence at a time when more than half of our nation's oil comes from foreign sources, a figure that is rising and could exceed 65 percent imports by the year 2020. The United States will always need oil imports, but the current crisis underscores the importance of having our own healthy domestic supply. A conservative estimate is that ANWR would yield 7.7 billion barrels of oil, an amount roughly equal to 20 years of imports from Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The higher end estimates equal 50 years' worth. ANWR could easily provide more than 20 percent of our domestic oil production.
This is especially important considering U.S. energy production is not keeping up with our growing consumption, creating a rapidly increasing gap between domestic supply and demand. Over the next 20 years, even with increased conservation programs, U.S. domestic oil production is calculated to decline by 1.5 million barrels per day, while demand will increase by 6 million barrels per day.
Earlier this year, we saw the effect energy shortages can have on our economy and quality of life. Californians experienced rolling blackouts. Gas prices rose to new highs last spring and summer. At a time like this, we must not turn our back on an important domestic source of energy.
We can develop a small portion of ANWR while guarding the environment. The administration is urging that the ANWR legislation impose the toughest environmental standards ever applied to oil production. For example, it would limit the surface disruption caused by drilling to only 2,000 acres of the 1.5 million set aside for oil exploration within the 19.6 total acres contained in ANWR.
The men and women who work in the oil fields will be specially trained to protect the environment. This will ensure a well-qualified work force will take every precaution necessary to preserve the environmental integrity of the Arctic Coastal Plain. In addition, oil-field technology has advanced significantly in the 30 years since oil development began on Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. We have the capacity to extract oil while still protecting the Arctic ecosystem by increasing the length of directional drills and allowing for smaller and more compact production pads.
With American ingenuity and innovative technologies, we can protect the environment and provide energy security. We have the opportunity to take action before we face a devastating crisis. We must embrace a long-term energy plan that allows for protection of our environment, more efficient use of energy and increased development of domestic energy sources. Our long-term national security depends on it.

Gale Norton is secretary of the interior. Terence M. O'Sullivan is general president of the Laborers' International Union of North America.

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