Should we drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?

By JOAN KING, a REP member in Georgia

AN HISTORICAL DOCUMENT: letter to the editor, Gainesville (GA) Times on April 3, 2001.


Should we drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) or not?

Everyone seems to have an opinion, but most opinions appear to depend more on ideology than reason. Bush supporters are for it. Environmentalists are against it. The energy crisis in California is being used as a rational for drilling despite the fact that California doesn’t get its electricity from gas and oil.

Most of the people involved in the argument have never been to Alaska, never visited ANWR, never seen a caribou in the wild. They probably never will, yet those opposed to drilling get very emotional about it. On the other hand, the people who support drilling have very little hard evidence to support their position.

It’s not that there isn’t plenty of information going around. It’s simply that everyone is quoting different experts and different evaluations; and everyone seems to forget, we are talking about estimates. No one really knows. No one will know until we begin to drill.

Will drilling endanger the wildlife in the area? We can’t be sure about that either, but we can be sure that once drilling starts there will be no way to restore the natural environment as it exists now. This isn1t just a little hole in the ground we’re talking about.

I’ve tried to get a handle on this question for weeks, and the more I look the more muddled it becomes. The subject came up during a recent meeting with Congressman Nathan Deal. Mr. Deal said there was enough gas and oil in ANWR to make the United States energy independent, at least it would go a long way toward that end.

Environmental groups have a very different opinion. They believe that even if we do find oil in ANWR, we will remain dependent on foreign suppliers because of our rate of consumption. The answer, they say, is not in discovering more oil but in reducing our dependency on fossil fuels.

The figures environmentalists cite for the amount of estimated oil in ANWR (and remember these are still just estimates) are not anywhere near enough to make the country energy independent. Environmental organizations quote the U.S. Geological Survey, but even these figures seem to vary. I’ve seen everything from three months to 300 days.

Georgia’s Senator Zell Miller sends his constituents a letter saying, “experts estimate that there is only a fifty-fifty chance of finding a nine month supply of oil for the U.S. in the area in question.” He doesn’t say which experts he is quoting. When I asked Mr. Deal’s office where the Congressman got his figures, they said, “he attends various briefings.” Briefings by who? I asked to see some source material, but this date it hasn’t been forthcoming.

I contacted a friend who got his PhD in Geology from the University of Texas. He pointed out that one should check the terminology when discussing estimates. “Possible” and “probable” represent educated guesses, but guesses nonetheless. If any of this was an exact science, no one would ever drill a dry hole.

Alaska, however, does have “proven” reserves, particularly gas reserves. My friend sent some figures from the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG). As one would expect, the AAPG wants to drill. And whose figures do they use? The U.S. Geological Survey.

So we have people on opposing sides of the issue using figures from the same source, figures that are still only estimates. In a case like this it all boils down to politics. George W. represents the oil industry. Environmental organizations are united in their opposition to drilling, but they haven1t got anywhere near the political or financial clout the petroleum industry has.

One thing is clear, however. Petroleum resources are finite whereever they are found. We will run out. Only by finding ways to utilize energy from the sun, or by tapping the heat of the earth, or by harnessing the power of the wind can we meet our needs in the next millennium.