Congress should move quickly to open ANWR..., "Without energy security, you can’t have national security." Exploring ANWR:
Why Two Thousand Acres in Alaska Are a Matter of National Security

Americans are fast adjusting to the reality that the first war of the 21st Century will not be over quickly; it may take years. With that reality comes the responsibility to seriously reexamine long-term needs in light of new national priorities. First and foremost on anyone’s list must be national security.

A key component of the Bush Administration’s goals for national security is the National Energy Plan, which calls for improving energy efficiency and conservation, diversifying our energy supplies through alternative and renewable sources and, perhaps most important, reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, nearly a quarter of which comes from the Middle East. Our military actions will only exacerbate our country’s growing dependence on that oil. As Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) puts it: "Right now we are 56.6 percent dependent upon foreign oil sources for our ability to fight a war. That is not acceptable."

According to the Department of the Interior (DOI), U.S. oil consumption has been rising steadily in recent years. However, while we currently consume roughly 7 billion barrels of oil each year, total domestic oil production has been declining for more than 15 years. Meanwhile, oil imports have been rising sharply during the same period. In 1999 alone, American companies bought an average of 725,000 barrels of oil per day from Iraq, which represented about 7 percent of all imports.

The answer to weaning ourselves from foreign oil may very well lie in a 2,000-acre stretch of mostly frozen tundra in Alaska, the subject of unrelenting debate on Capitol Hill.

A major political barrier to congressional approval of the president’s energy plan is the issue of drilling for oil on federal lands — specifically on a tiny portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska.

The origin of ANWR dates back to 1960, when the Eisenhower Administration set aside nine million acres of land in the northeast corner of Alaska for conservation efforts. Twenty years later, the Carter Administration and Congress added slightly more than 10 million acres to that site, officially designating it ANWR. To put it into perspective, ANWR is roughly the size of South Carolina.

At the time Congress established ANWR as a protected area, one significant sliver of it along the coastal plain, known as the 1002 area, was not included. Congress specified further study of that portion for its oil and gas production potential. Today, the largest untapped onshore energy reserve in this country is made up of roughly 2,000 acres of the 1002 area.

For others, however, ANWR represents the calving ground of the porcupine caribou and a temporary stopover for migratory birds. It’s also a growing vacation spot for enviro-tourism. The Eskimos who actually live there predominantly favor oil and gas exploration in ANWR, but their opinions seem not to matter.

While friends of the porcupine caribou struggle to protect the 1002 area from oil drillers, it’s estimated that we could be pumping as many as 16 billion barrels of oil— as much as 30 years worth of Saudi Arabian-type oil — out of a 2,000 acre drill area, which is a little more than one-hundredth of 1 percent of ANWR. By our math, that would leave approximately 18,998,000 acres for visiting birds, Snowcats (the mechanical variety) and the caribou, who, by the way, don’t have the good fortune in this case of being endangered, or this debate would have already been over.

What of the environmentalists’ concerns? Not that they are willing to listen, but the United States has developed advanced drilling technologies that can operate without disturbing the environment. These technological innovations have drastically reduced the size of production pads and allow for so-called "extended drilling." Extended reach wells generally stretch twice as far horizontally as vertically, thus reducing the number of drilling pads needed for production. For example, the DOI explains that if an oil production pad were put on the White House lawn, the well could reach oil under the Capitol, the Pentagon and Georgetown, without disturbing any surface areas.

Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), has pledged to filibuster any provisions aimed at opening ANWR to drilling if such legislation makes it to the Senate floor. If ever there was a time to put aside politics-as-posturing in the interest of national security, it is now. Two thousand acres is not a lot for the caribou to share when there’s a war effort underway. Congress should move quickly to open ANWR because, as Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has said, "Without energy security, you can’t have national security."

November 1, 2001
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