- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

One vote. That's all it would take for the Senate to add to the health of the nation by opening a sliver of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to energy exploration. Forty-nine senators appear to be willing to vote for a pro-drilling provision in a filibuster-proof budget reconciliation measure, a part of the 2004 budget resolution that is scheduled for vote on the Senate floor today.

And, 2,000 acres. That is all that would be required to access the energy resources under the ANWR Coastal Plain, what Interior Secretary Gale Norton called "the nation's single greatest onshore oil reserve." According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the so-called 1002 area of the Coastal Plain could contain between 5.7 billion and 16 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil, with a mean expected value of 10.4 billion barrels. Another way of looking at it is that the area could produce 1.4 million barrels of oil each day about what the United States imported from Venezuela last year, before strikes drastically reduced that nation's oil production.

$1.72. That was the average retail price of a gallon of gas last Saturday, a record, according to the latest survey by the American Automobile Association. Gas was more than $2 per gallon in some areas. The 30 percent increase in world oil prices (from last year's average $23.86 per barrel to the current price of $30.91 per barrel) has resulted in up to a $30 billion loss in national GDP, according to Ron Earley, a senior economist with the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

And, 31,857. That is the number of caribou now in the Central Arctic herd, according to a recent survey by biologists at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It's a record amount of caribou for the herd, whose range extends across Alaska's North Slope, where energy production has been extensive since 1973, when a Congress controlled by Democrats agreed to allow the Alaska pipeline to be built. The legislators who supported that measure have been vindicated by both the steady rise in the size of the Central Arctic herd and the unaffected populations of polar bears and musk oxen in the area.

And, 140 million acres. That is how many acres of Alaskan wilderness that will remain pristine, regardless of what Congress does concerning ANWR. Those areas already have been designated as either parks or wilderness areas, upon which no drilling is allowed. The 2,000 acres that the Senate could open are an insignificant fraction of the wilderness that will remain.

$2.4 billion. That's the amount in royalties from oil-lease sales that could be generated by 2005, according to White House estimates. Other likely benefits from opening ANWR are lower fuel prices and increased employment.

And, four. That's the number of senators who could be persuaded to shift their stance against energy production in ANWR. They are Arkansas Democrats Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, and Republicans Gordon Smith of Oregon and Norm Coleman of Minnesota.

The bottom line is that a nation's health is summed up by more than its acres of pristine wilderness. Other things that add to it include its GDP, its number of employed workers and its ability to sustain itself on its own resources. While reasonable people can disagree about the sums of specific benefits from opening ANWR how much energy would be produced, how much gas prices would be lowered or about how many jobs would be created there's little doubt that the total would be substantial and timely.

All it would take is 2,000 acres and a single Senate vote.

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