Bush right to consider opening ANWR to oil exploration

Published April 1, 2001

The environmental movement’s opposition to opening Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration ignores the history of ecologically safe oil drilling in Alaska and the considerable benefit that ANWR’s vast oil reserves would be to an energy-deprived America, according to a new report from the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR).

President George W. Bush has indicated his interest in opening ANWR to oil operations, in an effort to shore up the country’s energy independence.

Environmentalists, though, contend oil exploration would turn ANWR into a vast landscape of unsightly derricks, roads, and pipelines that would irreparably harm the refuge’s scenic attractions. They worry oil drilling poses unacceptable risks to the polar bears, caribou, and other ANWR wildlife.

But according to NCPPR’s January 2001 National Policy Analysis, “Environmentalists’ Opposition to Oil Exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is Unfounded,” it is possible to drill for oil in ANWR without hurting the refuge’s environment.

The report’s author, John Carlisle, notes first that only a very small amount of land is needed for oil production. At Prudhoe Bay on Alaska’s North Slope, 60 miles west of ANWR, companies are recovering 1.4 million barrels of oil per day. Yet, drilling rigs, production facilities, and gravel roads cover just 2 percent of the 250,000-acre Prudhoe Bay field.

Drilling technology has improved dramatically since the North Slope was developed in the 1970s. It is projected that oil companies would need as few as 2,000 acres–one-tenth of 1 percent–of the 19-million acre ANWR to recover huge amounts of oil, estimated to be as much as 16 billion barrels.

Moreover, Carlisle notes, strict federal laws already in place require companies to protect wildlife during oil and gas operations on federal land. For example, the Marine Mammals Protection Act protects the polar bears in the North Slope oil fields. Since oil drilling started more than 20 years ago, not a single polar bear has been killed or injured due to operations at Prudhoe Bay. The Prudhoe Bay caribou herd has grown in size since the 1970s, leaving little reason to fear that caribou at ANWR would be harmed by drilling operations there.

“The fact that not one species of animals on the North Slope has been listed as endangered after years of drilling says a great deal about the safety of allowing oil exploration in ANWR,” says Carlisle, director of NCPPR’s Environmental Policy Task Force.

“Responsible development of ANWR would reduce foreign oil imports by millions of barrels per day and lessen U.S. dependence on the whims of OPEC,” writes Carlisle. “It’s time for environmentalists to do the right thing for America and stop opposing ANWR oil exploration.”

For more information . . .

“Environmentalists’ Opposition to Oil Exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is Unfounded,” National Policy Analysis #324, was released by the National Center for Public Policy Research in January 2001 and is available on the group’s Web site at www.nationalcenter.org/NPA324.html.

The study’s author, John Carlisle, can be reached by phone at 202/371-1400 ext. 107, or by email at [email protected].