- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

High gas prices, soaring home heating bills, and ever-rising electricity tabs all are reminders of a stark reality: The United States needs to find new sources of affordable energy.

Last week, however, Senate Democrats set back our nation’s quest for an improved menu of energy options when they blocked a bill that would have opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration.

Despite its euphonious name, ANWR isn’t a place of great natural beauty: It’s a mostly barren coastal plain that already features a small village, a landing strip, power lines and even a small oil well.

Opening the area to environmentally sensitive oil exploration would improve the U.S. energy market, create new jobs, and produce billions of dollars in new wealth. Once its oil fields reach full capacity, ANWR could produce about 1 million barrels of oil daily and thus raise domestic production about 25 percent. ANWR alone could replace more than 60 percent of our oil imports from Saudi Arabia. The development would create more than a half-million jobs, lower world gas prices and add almost $400 billion to the U.S. economy.

Developing ANWR would also pay national security dividends: We now import nearly 60 percent of our oil. Some of it comes from allies like Canada and Norway. But large quantities also come from nations whose leaders have struck decidedly adversarial postures toward the United States. Some of the leading exporters of terrorism, indeed, also export oil.

And development need not hurt wildlife. Thanks to new drilling technologies, all the equipment needed to explore ANWR’s resources would fit into an area about the size of Dulles Airport. ANWR itself comprises more square miles than West Virginia and the total area eligible for exploration is about size of Delaware. Tiny drill sites can explore vast areas and 99.9 percent of ANWR will remain untouched.

Oil companies, furthermore, would have to meet the world’s toughest environmental standards, pledge to protect wildlife, and restore the areas to their pre-exploration standards or better. Ice roads and ice pads will allow much of the infrastructure that supports drilling to melt away, literally, in the summer.

Many environmental groups whose members oppose ANWR exploration know firsthand that oil development can co-exist with wildlife: The Audubon Society and the Nature Conservancy both have leased their own sanctuaries for oil exploration.

While ANWR oil exploration will pay enormous dividends, it doesn’t offer an all-purpose solution to America’s energy woes. Last summer, Congress passed and the president signed an energy bill that offers a balanced strategy based on increased production, enhanced use of renewable energy sources, additional conservation measures, and an aggressive effort to develop new technologies.

The energy bill, however, only represented the first building block of a comprehensive energy independence strategy. Many of its most important provisions make long-term investments that will not yield dividends for several years.

In coming months, I plan to work with the White House and members of Congress from both parties to explore ways we can build on the progress we made with the energy bill.

The needs of our economy and the mandates of national security require that we adopt an energy strategy that unlocks ANWR’s vast oil reserves. When Congress reconvenes next year, I will look for ways we can raise the issue again and give it the consideration it deserves.

Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, is the U.S. Senate majority leader.

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