Activist Groups Sue to Stop Oil Production in National Petroleum Reserve

Published May 1, 2004

Seven environmental activist groups have raised the stakes regarding their opposition to Alaskan oil recovery, suing the federal government to stop oil production in the National Petroleum Reserve. The suit, filed in February, claims the interests of caribou and other animals must take priority over oil production in the reserve.

“The administration is really bent over backwards to favor oil development over all other resource values in this area,” claimed Deirdre McDonnell, staff attorney for Earthjustice, one of the groups behind the lawsuit.

The National Petroleum Reserve is 23 million acres of land–about the size of Indiana–specifically set aside by the federal government in 1923 for oil production. The Reserve is located approximately 100 miles from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), whose prodigious reserves activists have successfully kept from oil production.

Earthjustice, commonly perceived as one of the more extreme environmental groups, was joined in the lawsuit by several self-described “mainstream” groups, including the Sierra Club, National Audubon Society, and Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Outside the Realm of Common Sense”

“Most Americans know that environmental organizations operate outside the realm of common sense and accountability, but this time Americans will see just how radical they have become,” said House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-California). “Suing to stop petroleum production in a petroleum reserve is like suing farmers to stop producing milk from cows. If we can’t get petroleum from the National Petroleum Reserve, where can we get it?”

Dan Lavery, an Alaskan specialist with the Sierra Club, described the contested National Petroleum Reserve land as a “very sensitive” part of the environment.

In response, Pombo wondered if there is any land in the nation the Sierra Club would not deem “very sensitive” and upon which the Sierra Club would support resource recovery.

Said Pombo, “These groups say they are pro-environment, but it is clear that they are just anti-energy, anti-American jobs, and anti-economic growth. The more they halt production at home, the more we send American jobs and money overseas to make up the difference.

“Last year alone,” Pombo continued, “the United States sent over $100 billion worth of American jobs to foreign nations for energy that could have been produced here at home. As demand grows and so-called environmentalists continue to file lawsuits, Americans will lose more jobs and pay more for their energy. Given the choice, what taxpayer wouldn’t want to spend $100 billion here on jobs, safe energy development, and a stronger economy?”

“Cash Cow”

“There is a big difference between active environmentalism and environmental activism,” Pombo added. “Most Americans today fall into the first category, taking part in community conservation efforts and recognizing that balance must exist between man and the environment. The very shrill, vocal minority that fall into the latter category, such as those who filed this absurd lawsuit, do not believe in balance, nor can they claim to work on behalf of the environment. Their focus is on fundraising, politics, and obstruction.”

Brian Kennedy, spokesman for the House Resources Committee, emphasized the financial ulterior motives behind the suit. Kennedy noted ANWR “has been a cash cow” for activist fundraising efforts. Opposing resource recovery in yet another portion of Alaska, said Kennedy, is “something else to add to their dossier of frivolous lawsuits that they can highlight in their glossy mail to raise more funds.

“The way environmentalists stay alive is through fundraising,” observed Kennedy.

Jim Waltman, director of refuges and wilderness for the Wilderness Society, attempted to defend the suit. “We are very concerned by what this administration has done in a lot of places, especially in Alaska,” said Waltman. “They won’t be satisfied until 100 percent of this area is opened to oil and gas development.”

To the contrary, activist groups will not be satisfied until 100 percent of America is ruled off limits for resource recovery, observed Pombo.

Threat to Economic Growth

“We import over 60 percent of our energy needs from foreign countries,” Pombo continued. “That’s billions in lost revenues and jobs in a time when the people of this nation need good jobs and steady income. … As supplies here at home dwindle, prices increase, Americans lose jobs, and our economy tanks. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan … cited increasing oil and gas prices as the biggest threat to continued economic growth.”

Malcolm Roberts, a senior fellow at the public policy group Institute for the North, expressed disappointment at the lawsuit. Roberts emphasized that modern technology, such as directional drilling and seismic imaging, allow for maximum resource recovery while disturbing very little of the local environment.

“As long as adequate regulation and oversight is implemented, then we really have a gold-plated oil and gas procedure in the northern slope,” said Roberts.

“Many expert studies, such as the 1999 Clinton administration report titled ‘Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil and Gas Production and Exploration Technology,’ conclude that domestic energy production must be increased,” observed Barbara Cubin (R-Wyoming), chair of the House Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Minerals. “The Clinton report shows that domestic production is the key to economic growth, good jobs, national security, and global environmental safety. Nonetheless, radical environmental organizations continue their crusade against safe energy production.”

Cubin pointed out that at the same time the activist groups sued to stop resource recovery in the National Petroleum Reserve, “a faction of these groups filed a suit to stop the production of clean natural gas in Wyoming’s San Juan Basin, where roughly 41 percent of the nation’s natural gas reserves are located.”

“The unfortunate irony here is that in the name of the environment, radical environmentalists are actually halting environmental progress and economic growth,” Pombo summarized. “We need to change our policies for the twenty-first century to embrace the fact that environmental safety is brought about by economic prosperity. We will get both, and the consumer will win twice, by increasing energy production here at home.”

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].