One of the United States' most pressing political issues over the past 40 years has been the question of whether or not to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refugem known as ANWR. Action has never been taken by the U.S. government to approve drilling because of presidential vetoes, Senate filibusters and allegiance to environmental lobbies. Our economy has reached a breaking point, and it has never made more sense to further explore this option as a means to alleviating our energy crisis in the United States.
Current oil technology allows for an outstanding utilization of land, with minimal impact on the environment (something proponents could not claim 15 years ago). In fact, the area in question (known as the "10-02" area) only makes up 8 percent of the entire refuge. Within that, it's estimated that only around 2,000 out of 1.5 billion acres would be necessary to access the underground reserves, which, by the way, have been cited as the largest such oil reserves in North America. For those who are not good with numbers, we're talking about an area about the size of JFK Airport.
The environmental lobbyists pressured President Bill Clinton to veto ANWR legislation in the '90s, citing risks to Caribou population and native Alaskan citizens. But extraordinary measures have been taken to protect wildlife in the nearby areas that already allow oil drilling. In fact, in the Prudhoe Bay area, central arctic caribou herd populations have gone from 3,000 to 32,000. Innovation by citizens and oil companies has created procedures that leave a minimum footprint on the already-frozen tundra near the Arctic Circle.
Public opinion in Alaska is an important factor in the decision to legalize the operations necessary to harvest the estimated 9 billion to 16 billion barrels of oil. After all, if the native Inuit groups were opposed to such actions, it would be critical to respect their views. However, polling data from across the state shows a vast majority of Alaskans not only support such drilling, but feel the benefits would far outweigh the costs. They see the same numbers conservatives have seen for years: $138 billion in potential tax and royalty revenue back to the government, a boom in the Alaskan economy, $1.5 billion per day spent by Americans on oil abroad; the list is endless and so are the opportunities. Americans are demanding alternative options to paying $4 a gallon, and legislation to authorize ANWR drilling would bring unprecedented benefits to the alternative energy movement in this country.
Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Ted Stevens, both of Alaska, have introduced legislation, "The American Energy Independence and Security Act of 2008," that would open up the refuge for development if oil exceeds $125 a barrel. Government revenues are estimated to be around $150 billion, and under law, half of that money would go directly to the development of alternative "green" energies as set up by the Energy Policy Acts of 2005 and 2007.
As a side note, conservative executive office holders like Gov. Tim Pawlenty and President George W. Bush have statistically done more for environmental initiatives than any Democrat. Yes, they have the power of law behind them because of their respective offices, but the notion that "green" policies are somehow solely Democratic campaign issues is naïve and unsupported. This cabinet-level initiative by the energy department is just one example.
Opponents of ANWR drilling will tell you they don't think more oil will make a difference in price because there may only be a few years worth of oil reserves in this area. But common sense would tell us that a decline in domestic production and a huge increase in the cost of imported foreign oil have inflated the price of oil. With a more steady and even supply that costs less per barrel to import, prices will change in North America.
One of the greatest things about this proposal is that the entire country benefits from oil drilling in so many ways. For example, each of the 50 states will share in the hundreds of thousands of new jobs that the National Defense Council estimates will be created directly and indirectly from domestic gas and oil production.
For many years, the prospect of ANWR has been considered and investigated by countless government agencies in preparation for the "thumbs up" from Washington. Though it has never been fully given, Congress and the White House have constantly been pushing the possibility for action. It is only a matter of time before permission is granted to tap this valuable resource.
Oil independence is not only an economic matter but a matter of national security. It costs much more to import and protect the value chain of a resource that is controlled by governments in such a volatile region like the Middle East.
The ANWR option should be put back on the table for consideration. Such action is not only a good thing for the United States as a whole, but is also a necessary component to national security and economic changes that effect us all on a daily basis.
Andy Post welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.