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Former Alaska Gov. reveals the truth about North Slope drilling

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Jimmy Carter and the Rest of the Democrats Are Dead Wrong on ANWR

Former Alaska Gov. reveals the truth about North Slope drilling

On September 13, Jimmy Carter wrote an article for the Washington Post on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge titled “Arctic Folly.”  While I respect the former President, I strongly disagree with his position on ANWR.

Hurricane Katrina has already taught America much about our nation, including our energy vulnerability.  That one storm removed 1 million barrels of oil a day from America’s lifelines, contributing to the previously unimaginable price of $65 per barrel of oil, the skyrocketing price of gasoline at the pump, and two airlines declaring bankruptcy.  That terrible act of God took us by surprise, and we need to learn from it.

One lesson is to use the natural resources God gave America to meet our own needs and to stop relying on the fuel shipped from abroad, especially from developing nations where it is being ripped from lands and seas with little heed for the environment.

The first, and most obvious step, is to encourage Congress to open the most environmentally protected and promising oil province in North America: the coastal plain of ANWR.  This issue is reaching the boiling point, heated by the hurricane, the high price of oil and environmental fears fed mostly by misinformation.

Drill for Oil

Congress is poised to forward a budget reconciliation bill to the President that includes ANWR authorization.  If he receives it, he will sign it, and America can step out from the darkness of ignorance.  The bill will signal that, after 25 years of debate, we have finally found the courage to face the most shocking environmental issue connected with U.S. oil consumption: the ongoing rape of oil-rich developing countries that have virtually no environmental restraints.

For the past 60 years, I have watched or participated in the decisions regarding Alaska’s sweeping coastal plain.  In 1967, as governor of Alaska, I insisted that Atlantic Richfield continue drilling at the North Slope when it announced plans to pull out.  “You drill, or I will,” was my threat.  They heard me, drilled at Prudhoe Bay, and discovered the largest oil field in U.S. history, just 55 miles to the west of ANWR.

In 1970, as U.S. secretary of the Interior, I launched the environmental studies that led to the authorization of the trans-Alaska pipeline.  Those fields and that remarkable pipeline allow millions of Americans today to fill their gas tanks and heat their homes with energy produced in the U.S.  Without Alaska oil, dependency on foreign imports would rise well above today’s 60% of U.S. daily consumption.

At issue is oil exploration in the so-called “1002 area,” one-eighth of the 19-million-acre Arctic Refuge, most of which is set aside permanently from resource development.  This small segment of the coastal plain, however, has long been recognized as the most promising untapped oil province in North America.  In 1980, Congress mandated it be studied in depth.  The intent was to open the coastal plain carefully and responsibly, not to lock it up.  Unfortunately, since then, Congress has been intimidated by political pressure from the domestic environmental movement and its political spokesmen.

The studies of ANWR have long been complete, and Congress is ready to move forward to allow exploration to begin, but it needs public support.  From an Alaskan point of view, we find it difficult to understand the opposition, especially from those otherwise credible national figures who are willing to stretch the truth.  Scarcer than domestic energy, it appears, is domestic integrity.

Meanwhile, the public is victim to a bumper sticker debate.  Who then should you believe?  The most credible views are those of the Inupiat Eskimo who have lived on the coastal plain for thousands of years and have co-existed with and benefited from oil development; the biologists who have studied our Arctic wildlife for two generations; and the engineers who have designed the least disruptive oil development procedures in the world.  The vast majority of these people believe that oil can be developed on the coastal plain without seriously disturbing the wildlife, and they know what ANWR oil can do for America.

More Caribou

Here are key facts about North Slope drilling:

  • Did you know most wildlife in the 1002 area are present for only six weeks each year?  If you were to fly over the area today, you would find it difficult to spot any animals at all in what the environmental community claims is “America’s Serengeti—our pre-eminent wildlife sanctuary.”  And if you were to fly over it during the eight months of winter when temperatures drop to -70 degrees, you would see even less.
  • Did you know North Slope drilling is conducted only in winter to avoid disturbing the summer wildlife populations and will be strictly prohibited in ANWR during the caribou calving season from mid-May to mid-June?
  • Did you know Prudhoe Bay is the most environmentally responsible oil field in the world?  It is certainly the best I have seen, and I have toured the oil patches in all continents but South America.
  • Did you know Prudhoe Bay oil production has operated for 28 years with minimal impact on the wildlife, including the resident Central caribou herd that has grown from 6,000 to 32,000 animals?
  • Did you know not a single wildlife species has decreased in population at Prudhoe over this period?  Not one caribou has even been killed or harmed by any oil field activity in more than 30 years of human activity at the Prudhoe Bay oil field.
  • Did you know the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state agencies such as Environmental Protection and Fish and Game are required by law to monitor industrial activity in Alaska, and they do an outstanding job insuring that wildlife and habitat are protected? 

If oil is discovered in the 1002 area and the predictions of 10.3 billion barrels of oil are correct, the trans-Alaska pipeline can return to full capacity, doubling its current production to 2 million barrels a day, and the American people will have the benefit of that increased domestic oil supply for at least another 30 years.

This will help the U.S. energy-wise and security-wise.  As the largest oil-consuming nation, it will make us more credible in terms of the global environment.  And it will give us some breathing room as we dedicate our creativity and resources to develop alternative energy sources—an absolute must for the next generation.

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Written By

Mr. Hickel is a former two-time governor of Alaska and served as U.S. Interior Secretary in the Nixon Administration. His latest book, Crisis in the Commons: The Alaska Solution, includes an extensive discussion of ANWR and national energy policy.

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