Sunday, January 01, 2006

On ANWR and Energy

It is time to put the rhetoric aside and talk seriously about Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) - the history, current debate, risks, needs, and the vision for a national energy policy. The Senate's recent filibuster of a Defense Appropriation Bill because oil exploration was added to the legislation brought the issue to the forefront once again. Senator Mike DeWine's vote (one of two Republican Senators) against cloture of the filibuster was instrumental in the rejection of the plan to open ANWR to oil exploration and drilling.

For a little bit of history, the Eisenhower Administration signed a Public Order establishing the 8.9 million acre Alaska National Wildlife Range for "...the purpose of preserving unique wildlife, wilderness and recreational values...." In 1980, President Carter expanded the area to 18 million acres, renamed it the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, designated 8 million acres as wilderness, and called for wildlife studies and an oil and gas assessment of 1.5 million acres of the Refuge coastal plain.

As a result of the authorization to assess the oil reserves of the area, surface geological investigations, aeromagnetic surveys, and two winter seismic surveys (in 1983-84 and 1984-85) determined that a the potential of 10 billion barrels of oil may exist. The resource evaluation, conducted by the Department of Interior, was released in 1987 and recommended that Congress open the Coastal Plain for oil and gas exploration and development. In 1995, Congress voted to proceed with drilling by attaching the authorization to a federal budget bill, but President Clinton vetoed the bill which cancelled any plans for exploration and development. The debate continues today.

The area in question involves a very small portion on the ANWR Coastal Plain, comprising 1.5 million acres on the northern coast of Alaska and less than 50 miles from the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field which has been operating since the mid 70's. Because of new technology, the base field will incorporate less than 2000 acres or 0.01% of ANWR's 18 million acres and have an underground reach of a 4 mile radius.

More than 75% of Alaskans support exploration and drilling in the Coastal Plain area; but more importantly, so do the only inhabitants of the area. NIBY (not in my backyard) is not the attitude of the residents of Kaktovik, the only people living on the Coastal Plain of ANWR. The Inupiat people of the North Slope have called the Arctic their home for thousands of years, and Former Mayor Benjamin P. Nageak says:
I was taught by my father to respect the land and its resources because our very life depends on them. But we are both the same in our dependence on the resources found on our lands. For my father, it was the food he hunted to feed his family. I also use the land to hunt food for my family. But the oil beneath the surface of ANWR can also provide jobs, schools and a thriving economy for my people.

In 1969, when oil was first discovered on our lands, those fears were foremost in our minds as we fought for self-determination in order to be able to protect our resources. Since then, we have had over twenty years of working with the oil industry here. We enacted strict regulations to protect our land and the oil companies have consistently met the standards we imposed.

ANWR holds resources that can be extracted safely with care and concern for the entire eco-system it encompasses. The Inupiat people, working through the North Slope Borough, will act in the same careful, caring and cautious manner we always have when dealing with our lands and the seas.

We have the greatest stake possible in seeing that any and all development is done in such a way as to keep this land safe. Because it is our world. It is where we live. It holds the remains of our ancestors. It holds the future of our children.
Opponents of exploration and drilling contend that the 10 billion barrels of oil, and the daily production of 1 million barrels/day it could reasonably produce, are insignificant compared to the imported 13 million barrels/day to satisfy America's daily consumption of 21 million barrels of oil. The numbers can be extrapolated to show that the percentage of oil imported on a daily basis would fall from 61.9% to 57.1% at today's usage rate. Consequently, the argument continues that the benefit of drilling in ANWR is not worth the potential harm to the eco-system.

I suggest that Congress immediately authorize exploratory drilling to determine the real quantity of oil and natural gas reserves exist in the Coastal Plain. Most geologists agree that the potential may rival or exceed the initial reserves at Prudhoe Bay, but we will not know until beneath the surface exploration is accomplished. At the same time, plans should be developed and initiated to build the base field and connect to the trans-Alaskan pipeline 50 miles to the west.

If the sub-surface exploration indicates the reserves are far greater than anticipated and a significant impact can be made on the amount of imported oil, then drilling should begin immediately. On the other hand if the exploration supports the current predictions, then the drilling operation should be built and the equipment maintained while the Coastal Plain reserves are capped and held as part of our nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserves (SPR).

The SPR was created by 1975 Energy Policy and Conservation Act (EPCA), primarily to counter a severe supply interruption. The goal was to establish a billion barrel reserve with the authorization to permit a removal rate (physical restraints) of 4.4 million barrels a day. In the mid 70's the US consumption rate was 14.7 million barrels/day so the removal rate allowed for the reserves to meet 30% of the country?s needs for 7 to 8 weeks. However, at today's consumption rate, the SPR provides only 20% of the needs, or 5 weeks if the original 30% of supply was met. A lower quantified amount of ANWR reserves which would not significantly impact the amount of imported oil could wisely supplement the Strategic Petroleum Reserves for future emergencies.

Recently Americans saw a spike in gasoline prices due to the interuption of production by Hurricane Katrina, and the Department of Energy tapped the SPR in an effort to stabilize the market. I suggest that the spike was minor in comparsion to the effects the "law of supply and demand" will create on the price of a barrel of oil as China continues on the path of industrialization and begins to compete on the world market for energy sources.

The Administration, in colaboration with Congress, must develop a truly viable and meaningful energy policy. One that is driven towards a reduction in oil imports and ultimately to energy independence. Special interests groups, their agendas, and their influence peddling must be set aside so America can re-shape its energy requirements and fight for "independence" once again = this battle is no less important than the one waged two hundered and thirty years ago.

We need to establish a national goal of energy conservation and the development of new, efficient, and clean forms of energy. As President Kennedy inspired the nation in 1962 to land a man on the moon and return him home safely by the end of the decade, we must do the same today with regard to energy. Modern computers, rocket engines with the required thrust capabilitiues, and the other technolgy required to reach the dream in 1969 were not yet conceived when JFK rallied Americans around something which seemed impossible.

Our President and Congress must inspire the genius of "free enterprise" and mix in a good dose of government support and incentives to create a long term solution to an immediate and long term need while creating a national goal of energy independence within the next ten years. We will not be required to start with a blank slate as we did in 1962. A number of passive systems (solar and wind) exist, which will become more economically feasible as the competition for a barrel of oil heats up and prices increase. The technology to increase battery life and reduce physical size has made great strides, which will allow coal burning and nuclear power plants to replace oil. Automobiles designed to operate on biofuels, some on a blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline, are scheduled to come online in 2006. Fusion technology is in its infancy, but so were computers in 1962.

Let us stop the bickering over drilling for oil in ANWR, establish specific goals, and then permit the potential oil and gas reserves in the Coastal Plains to support America's drive to prosperity, security, and energy independence. Future generations will thank us and we likely will leave the world a better place in which to live.

There is simply no option - lets get it done AND soon!

William G. Pierce

Additional Resources:

Fusion Industry

Fusion Power

Technology Development

1/3 Update:

Right Angle Blog read this piece and says:
The challenger to Mike DeWine is looking smarter and smarter everyday.
Thank you, Right Angle.

1/5 Update: Reworked paragraph 11.


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