Small step for energy treads on wildlife

It’s unsure how much oil is under the refuge, but it won’t likely be worth what we lose.

On Wednesday, President George W. Bush won a major battle in his quest for more domestically produced energy – while sentencing the refuge to invasive exploration and drilling. The U.S. Senate voted 51-49 in favor of keeping refuge exploration on the budget, clearing the way for approved drilling this year.

This is yet another sign of Congress’ short-sighted vision. Bush and company are “concerned about rising energy costs” but seem wholly unconcerned about the fragile ecosystem their scheme will disrupt – caribou, musk ox, polar bears and many other species will lose precious habitat and safe areas to breed.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., voted against the measure, saying the United States should focus on conservation of fossil fuels rather than increased production – a concept for which the Bush administration seems to have little time. Senate Republicans pooh-poohed the statement, supporting increased production to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But the problem remains: We cannot dig up every pristine area in the nation hoping for a never-ending supply of crude oil. Bush has committed to keeping the country’s oil reserves safe and untapped – if only he could say the same for our beautiful wilderness areas.

Even though drilling techniques have become less invasive than they were years ago, the infrastructure required for exploration would completely disrupt and ruin much of the coastal plain under which these alleged billions of barrels of oil lie. Unless oil companies plan to helicopter workers in without constructing roads or buildings, the arctic ecosystem would sustain immense damage from which it would be unlikely to recover.

Energy prices are increasing, straining consumers’s budgets. But sacrificing some of our most valuable natural beauty and biodiversity will not fix the problem. Will we drill in Yellowstone National Park? We must face the energy “crisis” without pandering to the oil industry. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should remain intact, regardless of what lies below it.