Thursday, Nov. 3, the Senate voted narrowly to require the Interior Department to begin selling oil leases for the coastal plain of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, in Alaska.
The provision was tacked on as an amendment to the massive budged deficit reduction measure that is immune to filibuster. Lacking the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, Senate Republicans calculated the strategy to beat decades of liberal Democratic Party and environmentalist objections to any oil exploration in ANWR. A last-minute effort by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., to block the effort was narrowly defeated on a 51-48 vote.
Sen. Cantwell was not amused. “Using backdoor tactics to destroy America’s last great wild frontier will not solve our nation’s energy problems and will do nothing to lower skyrocketing gas prices,” she told the press after the vote.
The measure still has to pass in the House. Already opposition is mounting. Yesterday, TrueMajority.org sent out a massive e-mail blast damning the ANWR legislation with emotionally loaded partisan language aimed at attacking the president:
Opening the wildlife refuge to oil rigs is not about “energy security” or bringing down the price of gas (siphoning out all the oil under the sanctuary would save just one penny at the pump). Drilling oil wells in one of the last untouched spots in America is nothing but another federal giveaway to Bush administration cronies in an oil industry that is gouging consumers with $3 per gallon gas while it reaps record profits.
TrueMajority.org is a tax-deductible 501(c)(3) organization founded by leftist Ben Cohen, the ice-cream mogul behind Ben and Jerry’s, a group that somehow still claims to be “non-partisan” with a straight face.
Curiously, the political left has now joined forces with the “Peak Production” oil theorists who have taken to argue that we should not expect much from Alaska, especially since we are doomed to run out of oil anyway. Matthew Simmons, author of “Twilight in the Desert,” makes this exact argument about Prudhoe Bay. Simmons notes that Prudhoe Bay oil production “peaked” in late 1989, at a production rate of 1.5 to 1.8 million barrels a day, from which production has declined to a 2004 average of between 350,000 and 450,000 barrels a day. So why bother, especially since the liberals and the “Peak Production” theorists argue that oil comes from dead dinosaurs and decaying ancient trees, so oil is by definition finite and bound to deplete to nothing?
The common “doom and gloom conclusion” of the political left, the radical environmentalists, and the “Peak Production” theorists is that we should simply leave Alaska to the caribou, since no matter how much oil is there, it’s just a drop in a nearly empty bucket that will never be refilled.
Craig Smith and I wrote “Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil” to provide you, the reader, with a different perspective. Let’s get the Alaska oil debate into perspective. The Congressional Office of Technology and Assessment estimates that oil production in ANWR as contemplated in the current legislation would require only about 5,000 to 7,000 acres, one-half of 1 percent of ANWR, or about 0.004 percent (four one-thousands percent) of Alaska’s total land mass.
Prudhoe Bay and the coastal area of ANWR that may be opened to oil exploration are about the size of a postage stamp on a football field. Prudhoe Bay’s gravel pads, gathering lines, production facilities, roads and other oil infrastructure occupy less than 6,000 acres of land, yet Prudhoe Bay remains America’s largest oil field. Matt Simmons’ statistics are typically pessimistic. The Energy Information Agency of the Department of Energy estimates that Alaska oil production averaged 902,000 barrels of oil per day from January through August 2004, about 16 percent of total U.S. oil production during that period, most of which still comes from Prudhoe Bay.
Contrast our resistance to developing domestic oil resources to Russia, a country that has embraced the abiotic, deep-earth origin of oil theories and has explored aggressively domestic oil-rich areas, including western Siberia. Today, Russia has advanced to the point where the country rivals Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest exporter of oil. We do the exact opposite. We have placed ourselves in an “oil stranglehold” precisely because we have allowed ourselves to become convinced that oil is fossil fuel and that we should keep our environment “pristine.” Every effort to explore what are likely to be massive oil reserves throughout Alaska and offshore, both in the Atlantic and the Pacific, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, are predictably blocked by the political left and radical environmentalists.
Now, oil executives are being called to Washington. The political left is positioning to confiscate oil industry “windfall profits,” while leaving in place all oil taxes and environmental regulations. Liberals need the money. Why? Democrats in Congress desperately want to continue their agenda for a massive income re-allocation to be effected through a government welfare state that has spent some $10 trillion in public funds since the War on Poverty was begun four decades ago, without making any dent upon the number of poor in America.
Yes, we agree oil companies should commit more of their profits to expanding oil exploration and production infrastructures, including a resolve to build America’s first new refinery in 30 years. What Congress should be examining when oil executives are called before the Senate this coming week is how we can get the environmental regulations into some perspective so we can explore and drill more aggressively for oil in Alaska and offshore. Or, how can we streamline the environmental approval processes and government regulations for operating refineries so the oil companies can make the business decisions needed to build new refineries right now?
Today, the U.S. imports 60 percent of our oil, a proportion that continues to grow. We argue in “Black Gold Stranglehold” that this dependency on foreign oil must end. Otherwise, we will continue to be held hostage to countries such as Mexico, from which we accept a non-ending flood of illegal immigrants, or Venezuela, where socialist leader Hugo Chavez is fueling the flames of anti-Americanism with his narco-terrorist buddies throughout the hemisphere. The billions we are shipping to the Middle East inevitably will come right back at us in the form of radical Islamic terrorism, especially since as our supposed friends the Saudis can find no resolve to control the extreme Wahhabism that is central to their beliefs.
America needs to wake up to the reality that with 1.28 trillion barrels of proven reserves worldwide, we have never in recorded history been so awash in oil. The “Black Gold Stranglehold” is one of our own making. Drilling in ANWR is an important step forward to the United States becoming more oil independent. If we lose this battle, the grip of the “stranglehold” will only grow tighter.