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Should the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be explored for future oil production?

Feb. 9, 2001

Yes: Drilling reserves

could help economy

When it comes to oil, America is heading for a crisis. As oil prices increase, homeowners are struggling to pay their electric bills, and gas prices have become outrageous. Unless America takes action, these problems will only continue to get worse.

'All of these woes are the direct result of America becoming ever more dependent on foreign energy -- to the detriment of our economy, our employment and our national security,' said Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Right now America imports 10.5 million barrels of oil a day, almost 55 percent of what we consume daily, said Murkowski, who is chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The more dependent we are on foreign oil, the more our economy is at risk, Murkowski said.

A controversial solution to this problem was introduced on March 8, 2000. Murkowski and Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) introduced a bill to the Senate that would authorize environmentally responsible oil development in a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). This bill was co-sponsored by 33 Senators, including Republicans and Democrats.

Opposition to the bill was quick and fierce, despite the fact that 10 years ago the U.S. Department of Interior reported that advancing technology makes oil exploration possible without damaging the area's environment.

'If you're not going to develop our domestic resources, you'd better get used to liking Iraqi oil,' Vice president Dick Cheney said on CNN's Late Edition. President Bush has also said he supports drilling in ANWR and the benefits of increasing America's oil production speak for themselves.

Opponents of the bill will say that there is only a small supply of oil available in ANWR. However, the latest U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the designated area contains up to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil. This oil would replace our imports from Saudi Arabia for 30 years, according to the Energy Information Agency.

Opponents of drilling in ANWR will also say that a huge portion of wilderness will be destroyed in the drilling process, but they will not tell you that a portion of the wilderness refuge was left open for development. In fact, Murkowski explains that only one hundredth of a percent of the entire 19-million-acre area will be affected. Modern technology has made it possible to extract oil with minimal effect on the environment.

Environmentalists try to quiet the fact that importing oil is an environmental hazard by itself. 'By 2020 more than 30 giant supertankers, each loaded with 500,000 barrels of oil, will have to dock at U.S. ports every day,' Murkowski said. 'That creates a greater environmental risk than developing our own petroleum resources.'

Opponents will also say that drilling in ANWR will destroy the sensitive porcupine caribou herd. However, there is no indication that responsible exploration will harm the 129,000-member herd. To protect the herd's habitat, the bill includes seasonal limitations on exploration, such as preventing surface disruptions during June and July. The bill also requires that all pipelines and roads minimize effect on the caribou.

Despite the fact that America needs more oil, current economic forecasts show that our economy could also use a boost. Current trends indicate that the U.S. will be dependent on foreign sources for 64 percent of our oil, according to the Energy Information Agency. Drilling in ANWR would reduce this percentage and provide additional jobs in all 50 states, Murkowski said. ANWR development would produce billions of dollars in federal revenue and generate between 250,000 and 735,000 jobs, according to Wharton Econometrics Forecasting Associates.

This isn't to say that America shouldn't be careful about drilling in Alaska. It's important that we protect our land, but it's also important to protect our economic interests. America has resources of fuel available in ANWR that would help boost our economy by creating jobs and would lower our dependence on unstable nations. Given that growing dependence, there is no time to waste.