In a sad sign that life on Capitol Hill is returning to normal, Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., attempted to provide a quick and inadequate fix to the nation’s energy problems. He attached a bill opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling onto a completely separate anti-terrorism bill. Inhofe’s Homeland Energy Security Act was voted down 100-0. Although the overwhelming show of condemnation for such vile political maneuvering is encouraging, Inhofe and other politicians voiced resilience to fight until the ANWR is opened.
At stake is one of the world’s last pristine environments. The ANWR is a 20 million-acre preserve on Alaska’s North Slope. On this land 180,000 caribou migrate each spring to give birth to more than 50,000 calves. Calves that will replenish the herds, feed the vast array of ANWR predators such as grizzlies and wolves and keep the ecosystem in balance. Yet it is on this same land that drilling advocates wish to tap into billions of barrels of crude oil. A process that will jeopardize the breeding grounds of caribou, disrupt the eco-system and deflower relatively unindustrialized lands.
The ANWR potentially contains the largest onshore oil basin in the United States, according to the Energy Information Agency of the Energy Department. At its peak the ANWR could produce about 1 million barrels of oil per day, reducing United States’ dependency on foreign oil by only 5 percent and could drop the world oil price from $20 a barrel to about $18. Although some politicians argue Alaskan oil could replace 30 years of imports from Saudi Arabia or 50 years from Iraq, all the oil in the ANWR would only fuel the United States for a few months and would take ten years to develop.
The United States would merely be shifting its dependence from foreign to domestic dealers of oil, a move that falls short of being a real fix. Many on Capitol Hill are searching for and finding viable solutions to the energy squeeze. Senate Majority leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., proposed harvesting the natural gas that is currently pumped back into the ground. Others note an improvement of just three miles per gallon on new vehicles would save five times the likely oil yield of the ANWR.
There is clearly no easy solution to the United States’ dependence on oil, and the subsequent dependence on foreign markets. Still, there is the potential for a policy that will optimize oil production, reliance and consumption. Weighing all the factors – environmental, economic, political – is imperative if the United States is to come up with an effective, long-term solution. Political interests will continue to push for quick solutions under the precepts of national security, but their answers are neither quick nor efficient. The United States will be better served if the search for viable solutions continues.