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

Feb. 9, 2001

No: Oil not worth harming ecosystem

I wonder when these Republicans will get it. Even with the resounding message the American voters sent by supporting the pro-environment agendas of Ralph Nader and Al Gore over President George W. Bush's build-more-oil-wells approach, Bush and the Republicans are still steaming ahead with their plan to set up oil wells in the beautiful Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Thanks to a Carter-era law that protects the refuge in Alaska, Republicans will have to get a bill approved that allows ANWR to be opened up for drilling, which should not pose much of a problem since Republicans control everything in Washington, D.C.

I always want to laugh every time someone says,'But we can do it in a safe way' as Sen. Frank Murkowski of Alaska, one of the leading supporters of drilling oil, often claims.

It doesn't matter how advanced the technology -- when you drill for oil, you destroy the surrounding environment. Oil wells are not natural and are certainly not meant to be set up in the middle of a national wildlife refuge, which is protected not only for humans' enjoyment, but also to preserve that ecosystem and the environment within it.

But I guess the Republicans just don't get it. Melanie Griffin, director of the Sierra Club's Lands program, said it best in a statement just before the election: '...that oil can be extracted in an environmentally friendly way, is like talking about tree-friendly chain saws. Oil and wildlife don't mix.' In fact, in a letter sent to former President Clinton before he left office, a group of 250 scientists said, 'Five decades of biological studies and scientific research have confirmed the need to protect ANWR from development.'

Take Prudhoe Bay for example, where drilling began 30 years ago. There are an average of 427 oil spills per year at that drilling site, just down the road from ANWR; 43,000 tons of nitrogen oxides pollute the air each year; there are old spill sites that have shown little signs of re-growth of vegetation; and gravel excavation from nearby streams and lakes has destroyed approximately 17,000 acres of wildlife and marine habitat, according to the Sierra Club.

If Bush gets his way, this will soon be the story of ANWR. Proponents always say, 'It will be different this time; we can do it in an environmentally-friendly way.' And the same destructive, toxic consequences always occur.

ANWR is the last stretch of Alaska's north shore that is not currently open for development. And Bush 'wants to make it the center of [his] energy policy.' If one listens to Bush and his cohorts, the supposedly vast amount of oil at ANWR will render the United States free of our dependence on foreign oil. Hmmm, that's funny though, because the federal government has estimated that ANWR contains, at most, about 3.2 billion barrels of economically producible oil -- an amount representing less than six months of U.S. energy consumption, according to MSBNC.

So that's not going to solve any problems. What will help is developing cleaner, safer, renewable alternative energy sources. But these sources -- biomass, thermal, wind, fuel cells and solar energy -- are not getting needed research. And under a Republican government, they never will, because the Republicans and Bush just don't get it. What they do get, however, is millions of dollars from the big oil companies.

In Texas, Bush rewarded his oil buddies' contributions with watered down environmental enforcement and a whopping tax cut for the oil companies. So what he's doing now is no surprise.

With the appointments of Christine Todd Whitman to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Gale Norton to head the Department of the Interior, both will clear the way for more drilling in ANWR and similar places. The Republican Congress will gleefully watch the oil industry destroy what many call America's 'serengeti' -- ANWR.

Maybe Bush and the Republicans do get it. Unfortunately, what they're getting is too much money from the oil industry.