Drilling in Alaska? Why not?

Human beings, like nature and animals, are a part of “the environment” and should be able to use it as we see proper.

Last week, the U.S. Senate voted 51-49 in favor of a budget proposal that includes provisions approving the use of a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling.

Fierce opposition to this drilling has existed for years and is likely to grow louder in the coming months and years. But the arguments against drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, including those voiced right here in The Minnesota Daily, are severely flawed.

One of the biggest oppositional arguments is the notion that the refuge’s oil reserves will provide no more than six months of oil. This is both misleading and false. Not only is that argument based on outdated figures, but that estimate also assumes that the United States would get oil only from Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and immediately stop getting oil from anywhere else.

Estimates from the U.S. Department of the Interior project 9 billion to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil from the refuge. That would replace more than half of what we import from the Persian Gulf for more than 30 years. Even the low-end estimates suggest 1 million barrels of oil per day for more than two decades.

Drilling would also provide a tremendous boost to jobs and the economy of Alaska. It isn’t surprising that many Alaskans, including those living near the refuge, are in favor of the drilling.

Oil extraction is becoming increasingly more efficient and cheap. Alaskan drillers on the North Slope have, since 1990, made advancements in drilling technology that have not only saved millions of dollars, but have also allowed more oil to be extracted. These technologies will continue to improve and provide a tremendous boost to oil production and efficiency. If extraction reaches the levels it has in other drilling sites, the refuge could offer twice as much oil as current estimates forecast, providing a steady domestic source of oil for more than 50 years.

Opposition groups vary. Some argue that we should be focusing our efforts on alternative renewable fuels. I agree. That is why President George W. Bush’s proposed 2006 budget includes a 14 percent increase in funding to hydrogen research. Major U.S. car and oil companies have been working on alternative fuel sources for years.

But research and development takes time; and opening the refuge to drilling buys time. Allowing the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other foreign oil suppliers to continue putting a stranglehold on our oil supply will hurt our economy and, in turn, our research and development efforts. Domestic alternatives give us the freedom to make renewable energy a reality.

Many argue that drilling will destroy the environment. No doubt it will have some effect, but it’s ridiculous to claim that our minimal presence on a small portion of the refuge will destroy anything. Only 8 percent of the refuge’s 19 million acres will open for exploration, and less than 1 percent will be affected by drilling activity.

And what about the beautiful wilderness? The refuge exists in one of the most remote areas of Alaska – a frozen tundra visited by a handful of people every year. Even if drilling disrupted this beauty (which it won’t), why must its importance be blown so out of proportion?

Drilling in the refuge won’t start for several years, and the supply could then last for 40 years or more. Thus, the refuge will be a secure domestic source of oil for decades to come, and will at least partially free us from our dependency on foreign sources as we continue to work toward total independence from foreign energy and, ultimately, fossil fuels.

The definition of “environment” is not nature without humans. We are a part of the environment, and we have a right to use it.

David Couillard is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]