03/25/05 — Go for it! Oil drilling in refuge would be harmless and helpful

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Go for it! Oil drilling in refuge would be harmless and helpful

The U.S. Senate has approved a measure allowing for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It was a close vote — 51 to 49 — and largely along party lines.

The vote came as Americans were paying more than $2 per gallon for gasoline with the price still soaring as the spring and summer travel boom nears.

Some environmentalists are outraged. They see oil drilling in that pristine area as an unacceptable threat to fragile plant and animal life.

It is not a new lament.

More than 30 years ago, the same concerns were expressed when the TransAlaska Pipeline was built and drilling began on the North Slope. Environmental purists insisted that the project would have a disastrous effect on the flora and fauna of that region.

In fact, during the three decades since then, the plants and animals — even in the immediate vicinity of the pipeline and the oil wells — have flourished.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is huge, encompassing 19 million acres. Of this enormous expanse, only 2,000 acres would be involved in the drilling. Even in the worst scenario, any adverse effect on the environment would be virtually imperceptible.

Geologists believe at least 6 billion gallons of oil — perhaps triple that amount — can be found in the refuge.

Would this solve our fuel oil problems? Of course not. Americans are using around 10 million barrels of oil a day. The Arctic wildlife reguge wells could be expected to yield a little over a million barrels per day.

But that’s a million barrels a day we wouldn’t be importing.

To achieve fuel independence, America needs a multi-pronged approach with Manhattan Project intensity. That would embrace alternative, renewable fuels, more efficient engines that move our cars and trucks and ships and trains, and improved ways to heat and cool our homes and offices and factories.

Nuclear energy perhaps offers one of our best sources at the moment, but strident opposition has greatly compromised its widespread implementation and cost effectiveness.

Exploration of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would at least provide a fitting piece of the multifaceted puzzle needed as we try to move toward energy independence.

The Senate action beats the familiar hand-wringing wails of the naysayers who somehow still cling to the notion that our energy needs will be provided by warm sunshine and gentle breezes.

Published in Editorials on March 25, 2005 11:17 AM