Poet William Watson may have been an underappreciated energy security analyst. “To things, not phantoms, let us cleave,” he urged in “The Things That Are More Excellent,” a statement which applies well to the current debate on drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
That debate should be happening on the floor of the Senate, considering that the House of Representatives passed such a measure last August. Added impetus should have been provided by the dreadful events of September 11. Yet so far, that debate has been a fata morgana, thanks to the efforts Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle. Perhaps fearing passage last fall, he simply erased the bill from the Senate calendar. He still hasn’t scheduled a debate.
Sen. John Kerry has also been a hardened foe of the measure. He has repeatedly promised to filibuster the bill, and in a recent speech to the Center for National Policy, he presented the chimera that drilling a tiny fraction of ANWR would despoil a “unique and irreplaceable arctic environment.”
That would come as a surprise to the 6,500 Eskimos living in small Arctic slope communities, many of whom depend on caribou for sustenance. The caribou in the Central Arctic herd would be equally surprised, considering that their numbers have more than tripled since 1978, despite drilling around Pruhoe Bay.
That could be because most Alaskan lands, including the swampy costal areas, are already under some sort of federal protection. While opponents of drilling present the phantasm of the Alaskan wilderness being turned into some sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland, drilling will only be permitted on 2,000 acres 1/10,000 of the area.
Another phantom offered by Mr. Kerry and others is that instead of drilling in ANWR, America should focus its energies on developing renewables. Yet that is tantamount to tilting at windmills. Despite gigantic government subsidies, renewable sources of energy, such as wind, water and solar, only account for 9 percent of electricity generation in the United States. That isn’t likely to change for the next 20 years, according to estimates just released by the Energy Information Administration in it’s “Annual Energy Outlook 2002.”
Americans could be using that oil for the next 20 years, despite the allegations of opponents, who claim that ANWR contains only a few months worth of oil. As Arthur Andersen has shown, it all depends on who is doing the accounting. ANWR could contain up to 16 billion economically recoverable barrels of oil, which could conservatively cover 30 years of oil imports from Saudi Arabia.
The bottom line is that for every drop of oil extracted from ANWR, one less dollar goes into the pocket of unstable and sometimes tyrannical Middle Eastern regimes.
While drilling in ANWR could scarcely be called most excellent, it is almost a necessity of national security.