When President Ronald Reagan recommended in 1987 that Congress should reopen a small sliver of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to oil and gas exploration, it started an epic battle between those who believe more U.S. energy supplies make us more energetic and those who argue that we should not use or produce any more oil. Now, in an unexpected but bold move, Alaska Governor Sean Parnell has proposed that the Department of Interior join with the State of Alaska to fund a new, updated assessment of just how much oil and gas might exist under ANWR???s frozen tundra. It is a deal Obama should take, as it could settle once and for all the issue by providing ANWR???s owners — the American public ??? the information they need to make a decision.
Over almost 30 years, numerous bills to open ANWR have passed either the House or the Senate, and in one case, both bodies passed the bill, only to have it be vetoed by President Clinton. President Obama has stood firmly on the side of the anti-energy environmentalists against opening ANWR ??? the same ones who forced him to keep studying the Keystone XL pipeline to death ??? and therefore no one has expected any bill that might pass the House to be given a vote in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid decides what gets on the Senate calendar after getting his marching orders from President Obama. Part of the argument over ANWR has been over how much oil and gas might exist there.
Over those same 30 years, the information President Reagan based his decision on has gotten older and less relevant, given today???s technology for finding and producing oil. In 1984 and 1985, when the winter government seismic assessment program took place, technology was limited to 2 dimensional images (2D) with very little clarity and interpretative value. The government???s estimate of 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil at well below today???s prices, would be worth $1 trillion or more to our economy at today???s oil prices. But the government also estimated that the total oil in ANWR was between 16 and 42 billion barrels. Any of these numbers place ANWR in the highest class of oil reserves in the world. But the story could get much, much better.
In the thirty years since those estimates, the technology in the oil and gas business has gotten spectacularly better. Computers were very limited then, but today, the likelihood of oil and gas is found using 3 dimensional (3D) and even 4 dimensional (4D) analysis which shows what might have happened to hydrocarbons underground over time. When combined with new drilling as well as interpretive computing and materials technologies which would make NASA jealous, these amazing breakthroughs are remaking the United States and North America into the energy supergiant of the world. Governor Parnell???s proposal simply asks the president to join Alaska in the search for more information for the public about what they own, using the best technologies in the world in the dead of winter on some of the most forbidding territory in the world. An area, by the way, where the indigenous Inupiat Eskimo people overwhelming support efforts to find oil and gas in their traditional lands.
The implications of such new information could be staggering. In 1995 ??? 10 years after the ANWR report — the government estimated that the area around the famous Bakken formation in North Dakota held 151 million barrels of recoverable oil. Their estimate today is that the area holds 7.5 billion barrels, almost 50 times as much! If new information and new technologies had the same effect in ANWR that they have had on the Bakken, that would equate to about 500 billion barrels of oil, worth $50 trillion to our economy over its development.
Now, no one is suggesting that new research might yield those kinds of numbers, and no one should expect it. But the Bakken???s increases in estimates, which many think will only grow larger over time, show that miraculous energy results can occur when man is allowed to combine his God-given resources with his God-given talents to produce the energy we need to make our country run and grow. The problem, as always, is when government seeks to deny us those God-given gifts and instead, subject us to their temporary political judgments.
Which is precisely why the opponents of finding more oil and gas right here in North America are constantly fighting against allowing us to look for and finding more energy. Because despite President Obama???s repeated assertions that ???we???re running out of oil,??? the truth is, we???re running into it … where we can look. And that probably gives us some clues about President Obama???s likely reaction to the offer from Alaska Governor Sean Parnell, because if one thing has been clear about his administration, it is that the environmental groups that supported him so strongly are at the top of his list of political favorites. Anyone who doesn???t understand that need only ask one of the thousands of union pipefitters sitting idle while the White House approaches 5 years of study on a simple pipeline to deliver secure Canadian oil to our refineries to fill our gas tanks.
Look at what has happened to oil and gas production in the U.S. since Obama has come to office. Under Obama, oil and gas production are hitting new records, including the U.S. adding more new oil production last year than in any year since before the Civil War. Parts of the country where this is taking place cannot get enough workers and unemployment is virtually nonexistent. New wealth is being created, fortunes made, and families started. It is a renaissance.
Obama is quick to take credit for this, but the record is becoming clearer and clearer: the only places in the country where energy production is escalating rapidly are those where the federal government has no say about it, such as in North Dakota with very little federal land, or in Texas. On those areas that belong to the citizens but are under the thumb of Obama???s federal policies, production is down.
Alaska has offered Obama a gift horse, and if he chose to take it could make the nation stronger and wealthier while providing jobs and energy and new wealth right here at home. But Obama???s record of anti-American oil policies means while he is looking the gift horse in the mouth, it will be kicking the American public in the teeth. The people of Alaska deserve better, as does the nation.
Daniel V. Kish is SR VP of Policy at the Institute for Energy Research.