When deep pocket environmental lobbyists say “jump,” politicians beholden to them respond “how high.” Nowhere was this more evident than in the Senate’s recent inability to pass a necessary military funding bill as long as it contained a provision that would have allowed oil and gas production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
Access to oil is both an economic and a national security issue. Oil, the dominant source of energy for transportation, is also a feedstock for plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, lubricants and construction materials. And, as pointed out by Senator Ted Stevens during the debate over the 2005 military appropriations bill, the largest single user of petroleum products is the U.S. military.
Thus, access to oil is critical to our military if it is to continue to carry out its mission of furthering America’s strategic interests at home and abroad.
However, America can’t produce all the oil it needs domestically. This means that we rely on oil from countries with interests often hostile to our own. Allowing oil and gas production in ANWR won’t end this reliance but it would reduce it and thus make our country less vulnerable to either petro-blackmail or temporary disruptions in supply.
Accordingly, the Senate’s action was stunning and irresponsible. When asked to choose between the irrational demands of environmental lobbyists and the well-being of the nation and the safety of its men and women in uniform, a minority in the Senate, the vast majority of them Democrats, chose the former.
I would have preferred to see an up or down vote on going into ANWR as a stand alone bill — it would win. Which is why Democrats steadfastly refuse to allow such a vote and instead filibuster — a parliamentary maneuver whereby those in the minority can thwart the will of the majority — any bill proposing to open ANWR. This is what they did with the military bill.
Liberal environmental lobbyists, who oppose all resource extraction on public lands, claim that the oil in ANWR equals only a six month supply. This is almost true, but extremely misleading. ANWR would provide a ten month supply absent oil from any other source — no imports, no domestic production, nothing else. No one is proposing this.
To put the matter in proper perspective, the Energy Information Agency estimates that ANWR contains between 6 and 16 billion barrels of oil. Thus, if only six billion barrels of oil were recovered in ANWR, that would be enough to replace Iraqi oil for 50 years or from Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years. Understood properly, this is no longer small potatoes.
ANWR was never intended to be shut down to oil development. The 1980 law that doubled the size of ANWR to 19 million acres expressly called for Congress to develop a process through which exploration and production could be conducted on ANWR’s Coastal Plain. Upon signing the bill, President Carter hailed it as striking “a balance between protecting areas of great beauty and value and allowing development of Alaska’s vital oil and gas and mineral and timber resources. A hundred percent of the offshore areas and 95 percent of the potentially productive oil … areas will be available for exploration or for drilling."
Oil production and environmental quality are not incompatible. Caribou herds have expanded in and around Prudhoe Bay and other wildlife have flourished as well, apparently unaffected by the relatively primitive (by today’s standards) oil and gas development in the area.
Advances in technology means ANWR will fare even better. As President Clinton’s Department of Energy stated: "Today’s operators … institute protective measures appropriate to sensitive environments. … Ice-based roads, bridges, drilling pads and airstrips have become the standard for North Slope exploration projects. Ice-based fabrication is cheaper than gravel, it leaves virtually no footprint on the tundra; ice structures simply thaw and melt in the spring.”
ANWR’s importance goes beyond the oil lying there. Once industry showed it could produce oil and gas in an environmentally responsible fashion there, it might have led to an end to the moratorium on drilling off the coast of California and much of the Northeast, where billions of more barrels of oil are currently locked away.
America will never have complete energy independence. Yet Congress should remove the political obstacles to domestic production so that in times of crisis, America’s prosperity is not held hostage to hostile foreign powers. Shame on the Senate for not taking the first step in that direction with ANWR in 2005.