Alaska residents work to save refuge

Jason Juno

If oil drilling is allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northern Alaska, Robert Thompson said, he will be able to see it through the front window of his house.

He and Andy Keller, a field biologist in Alaska and a former Minnesota resident, spoke to approximately 15 students Wednesday at the Tate Lab of Physics. They advocated protecting the refuge.

Keller said President George W. Bush put $1.5 billion in his budget as revenue from the oil that could be produced in the refuge. Congress would have to pass an amendment with a majority vote to eliminate that money from the budget, Keller said.

The student group EcoWatch sponsored the event. Club President Kevin Clay said he wants students to be aware of the issue. He said he thinks drilling is a “short-term solution to a long-term problem,” and he wants to preserve the wilderness.

But Tony Richter, vice chairman of College Republicans, said he thinks there will be little damage to the Alaskan wilderness.

Richter said he has seen numbers that show only 0.0001 percent of wilderness would show any sign of drilling.

He said he thinks conservation is a good thing, but people should come before “unnecessary” conservation.

Richter said drilling is “responsible and prudent” to reduce our need for foreign oil.

Thompson said the issue is about his culture, which is Inupiat Eskimo. He said that where he lives is a “pristine” area, and he wants it to remain that way.

He said that with climate change, the 1987 environmental impact statement the Bush administration uses is outdated. He also said drilling for oil will hurt caribou in the area.

Keller said 97 percent of wetlands in Alaska remain intact, compared with Minnesota losing 85 percent of its wetlands. Alaska has 3 million lakes, but all of the lakes’ water combined would hardly increase the size of Lake Superior, Keller said.

Thompson said the government has not shown it can clean up the Arctic Ocean in the event of a spill.

There are other areas of Alaska with oil that can be accessed, he said. For example, there is a national petroleum reserve that can be tapped in Alaska – with oil underground – once an environmental assessment is done, he said.

Thompson said the area is not a wasteland, as some say.

He said he and Keller are traveling to inform people and to get them to write to their representatives in Congress. They have been in Minnesota since June 30.

Keller said the voting could be very close this year in Congress. He handed out paper for those in attendance to write to Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., because his vote will be important, Keller said.

Thompson said he hopes Coleman keeps his campaign promise of voting against development there, but he has seen signs Coleman will not.

Keller said he has faith in Minnesotans to help stop drilling before it starts.

He said the idea the Bush administration conveys – that drilling will reduce dependence on foreign oil – is not true because if all the domestic oil were used, more than half would still be imported.

He said better gas mileage out of cars is the only way to reduce dependency.