Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Top Ten Reasons To Open The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) To Responsible Development

When Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) unveiled a proposal in Congress last Friday (January 5th) calling for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to be permanently closed off to any development, it sent a few shock waves through Alaska. The fact that both houses of Congress are now controlled by Democrats makes this more than just an empty threat; it has a possibility of success. What a turnaround in just one year!

Much of the opposition to ANWR development is triggered by fanaticism on the part of advocacy groups, which in turn has promoted misinformation amongst the general public. A misinformed public has caused their Congressional representatives to oppose ANWR in order to preserve the appearance of reflecting their constituencies' concerns. It is up to Alaskans to take the lead in constructively correcting these misconceptions, without demonizing the millions of mainstream Americans who honestly believe that opening ANWR to responsible development is wrong. We Alaskans are beginning to realize that the debate over ANWR has been hijacked by rhetoric rather than governed by reason. At times, we've assumed a hostile, defensive, "us vs. them" attitude, promoting and hardening extremist attitudes. This will stop. Those of you who honestly believe through misinformation that opening ANWR is wrong are NOT the enemy. This is no longer an "Alaska-first" issue; it's now an "America-first" issue.

And yesterday (January 8th), Anchorage's Democratic Mayor Mark Begich took a decisive step in that direction when he released a letter which he faxed to Rep. Markey. Mayor Begich emphasized conservation just as much as development. But what was most impressive was the following phrase he included, "We must acknowledege that although the Refuge is located in Alaska, it has a national constituency whose legitimate concerns cannot be ignored". This embodies the new spirit of reason I alluded to earlier. Click HERE to find direct links to the mayor's letter.

The ANWR.org website, a resource developed to promote favorable opinion towards opening up ANWR for exploration and responsible development, has published a "Top Ten'' list of reasons in support of ANWR development. I replicate this list below, along with some personal commentary in red:

1. Only 8% of ANWR Would Be Considered for Exploration. Only the 1.5 million acre or 8% on the northern coast of ANWR is being considered for development. The remaining 17.5 million acres or 92% of ANWR will remain permanently closed to any kind of development. If oil is discovered, less than 2,000 acres of the over 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain would be affected. That's less than 0.5% of ANWR to be impacted by production activity.

2. Revenues to the State and Federal Treasury. Federal revenues would be enhanced by billions of dollars from bonus bids, lease rentals, royalties and taxes. Estimates on bonus bids for ANWR by the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Interior for the first five years after Congressional approval are 4.2 billion dollars.

3. Jobs To Be Created. Between 250,000 and 735,000 ANWR jobs are estimated to be created by development of the Coastal Plain. [Ed. Note: A 2003 report by the National Defense Council Foundation is even more detailed and optimistic. They project a total of slightly over one million jobs created in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, directly and indirectly associated with ANWR oil production once it reaches its peak. Additionally, they project another 1.1+ million jobs to be created pursuant to any natural gas development. They do not specify whether these would be additional jobs above and beyond what currently exists or if these would merely be replacement jobs; I suspect a mixture of both.]

4. Economic Impact. Between 1977 and 2004, North Slope oil field development and production activity contributed over $50 billion to the nation's economy, directly impacting each state in the union.

5. America's Best Chance for a Major Discovery. The Coastal Plain of ANWR is America's best possibility for the discovery of another giant "Prudhoe Bay-sized" oil and gas discovery in North America. U.S. Department of Interior estimates range from 9 to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

6. North Slope Production in Decline. The North Slope oil fields currently provide the U.S. with nearly 16% of its domestic production and since 1988 this production has been on the decline. Peak production was reached in 1980 of two million barrels a day, but has been declining to a current level of 943,000 barrels a day.

7. Imported Oil Too Costly. In 2004 the US imported an average of 58% of its oil and during certain months up to 64%. That equates to over $150 billion in oil imports and over $170 billion including refined petroleum products. That¹s $19.9 million dollars an hour! Including defence costs the number would be nearly a trillion dollars. [Ed. Note: And we felt this at the gas pumps during the summer of 2006, when oil skyrocketed above $70 per barrel, leading to $3.00 per gallon gas prices. This was partially exacerbated by the relatively brief shutdown of BP's Prudhoe Bay facilities necessitated by some pipeline leaks - leaks caused by the failure of BP to perform periodic recurring maintenance. But recurring seasonal cycles of high demand and low supply, along with a failure to increase refinery capacity, will continue to inflict bouts of premium pricing upon us]

8. No Negative Impact on Animals. Oil and gas development and wildlife are successfully coexisting in Alaska's Arctic. For example, the Central Arctic Caribou Herd (CACH) which migrates through Prudhoe Bay has grown from 3000 animals to its current level of 32,000 animals. The Arctic oil fields have very healthy brown bear, fox and bird populations equal to their surrounding areas. [Ed. Note: O.K., let's be straight here. It is just as ludicrous to say "no negative impact on animals" as it is for the anti-smoking fanatics to claim "there is no safe level of second-hand smoke exposure". This is an extremist statement which hinders dialogue. The fact is there will be, at the very least, a minimal impact. The real questions here are (1) Is the impact minimal enough to justify the risk attendant to development, and (2) Will the impact prevent subsistence by indigenous peoples living in the area? The answers to these questions, based upon evidence presented so far as well as the findings from the Prudhoe Bay experience, are "Yes" to the first question, and "No" to the second question.]

9. Arctic Technology. Advanced technology has greatly reduced the 'footprint" of Arctic oil development. If Prudhoe Bay were built today, the footprint would be 1,526 acres, 64% smaller. Footprint shrinkage also applies to individual pieced of equipment to be used. [Ed. Note: This explains why, although 8% of the Refuge is considered for development, only 0.5% of the Refuge is expected to be actually impacted.

10. Alaskans Support. More than 75% of Alaskans favor exploration and production in ANWR. The Inupiat Eskimos who live in and near ANWR support onshore oil development on the Coastal Plain. [Ed. Note: It is important to remember that the Gwich'in people, who live in the Arctic Village area, oppose development because of concerns about the Porcupine River caribou herd. This herd is not just a source of food to them, it is central to their existence. The Gwich'in take elaborate precautions to preserve this resource. Their concerns must be addressed.]

Another favorable factor is that the bulk of activity will take place during the long eight-month winter in order to move across ice roads to be built. This will not only prevent damage to the fragile tundra during the short summer, but minimize active interference with the spring/fall migration patterns and summer calving of caribou herds.

Responsible pro-development advocates do not pretend the process will be painless. Even today, the Anchorage Daily News is reporting on a small oil spill on the pipeline just north of Coldfoot, discovered by a worker performing recurring maintenance. The pipeline has been temporarily shut down to accomplish repairs. In this case, there was no malevolence or negligence; a valve apparently failed in the extreme cold. This is simply normal wear-and-tear which will occur. One can also not predict the rare occasion when a drunken tanker captain will drive a tanker up the rocks. The best we can do is to install an overlapping set of reasonable checks and balances, and back it up with deterrent enforcement to minimize malevolence or sustained negligence.

Complex though it is, I believe the benefits of opening up a small slice of ANWR for responsible development clearly outweigh the potential drawbacks.

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