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ANWR's last stand?

Editor’s note: WND columnist Craig R. Smith co-authored this column.

As Congress pushes toward adjournment, Republicans in the Senate are fighting to keep alive the Bush administration’s push to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve for oil drilling. In an all-night session, the House passed approval for ANWR drilling, attaching the provision to a major defense bill. Now the fight moves to the Senate, where the battle is expected to be tougher.

Over the weekend, Sen. Tad Stevens, R-Alaska, proposed a compromise measure. Stevens proposed to link drilling in ANWR to providing relief funds to states afflicted by Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Specifically, 80 percent of the anticipated $5 billion the federal government stands to gain from ANWR oil-drilling lease sales would be allocated to state and local governments in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas and Florida.

The five hurricane states would also gain 20 percent of the federal government’s oil drilling royalties from ANWR, revenue which is expected to start flowing in 2015. Sen. Stevens has been pushing for ANWR oil drilling for 25 years, without success. Tying ANWR revenue to a popular measure such as hurricane relief is a last-ditch effort to save the measure this year.

Even this was not enough for environmentalists. Bill Meadows, president of the Wilderness Society charged that Sen. Stevens was willing to “take advantage of the suffering of the Gulf Coast by tying badly needed relief funds to the speculative revenues in his drilling plan.”

We wrote “Black Gold Stranglehold: The Myth of Scarcity and the Politics of Oil” to argue that America needs to pursue energy independence as a national security concern of the highest order. 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 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.

We have placed ourselves in an “oil stranglehold” precisely because we have allowed radical environmentalists to win the “politically correct” argument nearly uncontested. Every effort we make 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 radical environmentalists and their Democratic Party allies on the political left.

Today, America imports approximately 60 percent of the oil we consume, some 12 million barrels a day. By opening ANWR for oil exploration, we would make an important step to reversing the danger that every day we are becoming more dependent on foreign oil. We can explore for oil in Alaska without destroying the environment, regardless of environmental rhetoric to the contrary.

In these last hours before adjournment, the Senate needs to hear your views. Will the ANWR proposal be tied to a defense appropriations bill in order to get it through the Senate? Will Senate Democrats have the resolve to filibuster any measure that includes an ANWR proposal? How much pressure will environmentalists put on senators to get them to back away from ANWR, especially with the 2006 elections now less than a year away?