- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

The budget reconciliation bill recently passed by the Senate would finally open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. Environmentalists are “outraged.” Many Democrats plan to go against their constituents’ interests by voting against drilling.

Sad to say, that’s to be expected. But it’s amazing that a number of Republicans are likewise saying they intend to vote to lock up ANWR’S vast energy resources. They’re supposed to understand market forces and energy economics — at least better than their Democratic colleagues. And yet they plan to vote “nay” precisely when global petroleum demand is soaring, energy prices reaching all-time highs, and winter heating bills will make it increasingly difficult for the poor to heat and eat.

That any responsible member of Congress could vote against this legislation shows the ideological narrow view of drilling foes, the vast misinformation that still dictates discussions of this issue, and refusal of elected officials even to acknowledge the cumulative effects of “environmental protection” rules over many decades — much less do anything about them.

Many votes against drilling are coming from California, Northeastern and Midwestern legislators who have made a career railing against high energy prices, “obscene” oil company profits, unemployment and balance of trade deficits — while doing everything possible to constrict supplies, increase demand and drive up prices. For instance, air quality rules — coupled with a virtual prohibition on new nuclear plants — mean most new electrical generating plants are gas-fired, and demand for natural gas is at an all-time high.

But these same legislators have consistently opposed natural gas (and oil) development in Alaska, off the East Coast, off the Florida coast, along the Pacific Coast, in the Great Lakes, throughout the Western states, and in any other areas where petroleum might actually be found.

They apparently believe it’s OK to drill in other countries, even in sensitive areas. It’s likewise appropriate to buy crude from oil-rich dictators (especially at a discount from Venezuelan despots), send American jobs and dollars overseas, reduce U.S. royalty and tax revenues, imperil industries that depend on petroleum, and blanket habitats with “ecologically friendly” wind turbines and solar panels. However, drilling in the U.S.A., even for natural gas, is strictly verboten.

This is truly political theater of the absurd.

ANWR, government geologists say, could hold up to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil. That’s 30 years’ of imports from Saudi Arabia. Turned into gasoline, it would power California’s entire vehicle fleet for 50 years. The area’s natural gas could fuel Florida, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin generating plants a decade or more.

At $50 a barrel, ANWR crude would replace $800 billion in foreign oil, create up to 700,000 American jobs, and generate hundreds of billions in royalties and taxes.

Bringing this oil online would have other vital benefits. As Prudhoe Bay and nearby oil reserves decline, a time will be reached where there isn’t enough to run the Trans-Alaska Pipeline at capacity. That would mean enormous otherwise recoverable oil will be left in the ground, instead of fueling our economy. ANWR supplies would keep our oil lifeline open.

But all that is irrelevant, say environmental purists in and out of Congress. Energy development would “irreparably destroy” the refuge, they assert. Caribou droppings.

ANWR covers 19 million acres, an area equivalent to South Carolina. Of this, only 2,000 acres — scattered in small parcels across the “coastal plain” — would actually be disturbed by drilling and development, via modern directional drilling technologies. That’s 0.01 percent of the refuge, one-twentieth of Washington, D.C. — or 20 of the buildings Boeing uses to manufacture its 747 jets.

The potentially oil-rich area is flat, treeless tundra — 3,500 miles from D.C. and 50 miles from the beautiful mountains seen in all the deliberately misleading antidrilling photos.

During eight months of winter, when drilling would take place, virtually no wildlife is present. Only oil-field workers are crazy enough to remain outdoors when temperatures drop to minus 40 degrees F, the tundra turns rock solid, and that chaw of tobacco they spit out freezes before it hits the ground.

However, these unforgiving conditions mean drilling can be done with ice airstrips, roads and platforms. In the spring, they’ll all melt, leaving only puddles and little holes. The caribou will return — just as they have for years at the nearby Prudhoe Bay and Alpine oil fields — and do just what they always have: eat, hang out and make babies. In fact, Prudhoe’s caribou herd has increased from 6,000 head in 1978 to 27,000 today.

Other Arctic wildlife will also return, along with the Alaska state bird, Mosquito giganteus (which locals claim can carry off rabbits and small dogs).

Vast oil and gas potential, in a distant, mostly desolate area. Unprecedented global demand for petroleum. Soaring energy prices that hurt productivity, prosperity and the poor. Modern technological marvels that enable us to find and develop petroleum resources with no significant environmental effects. Jobs, revenues and reduced dependence on foreign sources. Ensuring we can recover all the oil we’ve already discovered along Alaska’s North Slope.

Finding and producing ANWR’s oil should be a slam-dunk. The fact so many congressmen (and senators) can’t support drilling there — or anywhere else in or off our 50 states — ought to make every American question the analytical skills of the people they’ve sent to Washington.

Every thoughtful taxpayer and voter should tell his and her representatives: These oil and gas resources are vital to our future. It’s time to end the obstruction and political posturing. It’s time to drill in ANWR.

Paul Driessen is senior policy adviser for the Congress of Racial Equality and Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and author of “Eco-Imperialism: Green power — Black death” (www.Eco-Imperialism.com).

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