one of my friends who works in the alpine area emailed me this... she has lived in alaska most of her life having only recently moved to arizona... but still flies up there periodically to work. think the bill for arctic drilling will pass? there are more republicans than ever in the house and senate... seems as if they could be on the verge of it... i myself don't like the idea and support the conservation alternative... thoughts?
Sunday, March 6, 2005
Sen. Domenici Builds Case for Arctic Drilling
By Michael Coleman
Journal Washington Bureau
ALPINE, Alaska— The future of American oil exploration is taking shape here, on a frozen tundra 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The remote area, accessible only by airplanes and desolate dirt roads, is home to a gleaming new ConocoPhillips oil extraction operation that is pumping millions of barrels of oil out of the rich Alaskan ground.
The state-of-the-art operation— sparkling clean but covering dozens of acres of land— is being touted as a model for the eventual opening of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, 50 miles to the east.
On Saturday, Sen. Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, came to Alpine with some congressional colleagues on a fact-finding mission.
The senator said he plans to use this example of modern-day oil exploration to help convince the American public that the time to open ANWR itself to oil production is finally at hand.
Legislation to open ANWR to oil drilling, which has repeatedly failed in Congress over the past four years, is expected to come to a vote in the Senate again within the next six weeks.
"ANWR is coming to a conclusion one way or another," Domenici said over a pizza lunch at the ConocoPhillips site Saturday as winds outside plunged temperatures to 48 degrees below zero. "I've heard so much about it, I wanted to see if there was anything I could learn by being here. I thought maybe I'd learn something, and I have."
Domenici, several Senate colleagues, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman and a small contingent of media toured the ConocoPhillips facility and then boarded buses to drive 35 miles on icy roads to an actual drilling facility.
Company officials touted the multimillion-dollar technology that allows them to drill more deeply and broadly into the earth with "footprints" smaller than ever before.
Today the delegation will tour more sites closer to the Arctic Ocean, and visit an Eskimo community in the heart of ANWR that supports exploration.
Since President Bush took office in 2000, ANWR has been the most hotly debated environmental issue in America.
Proponents contend that the region holds billions of barrels of oil that could eventually help reduce the federal budget deficit as well as America's dependence on foreign oil sources.
Those opposing ANWR drilling— including Sen. Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexican who is the top Democrat on the Senate energy panel— argue that opening the refuge could eventually endanger hundreds of species of wildlife, including thousands of porcupine caribou that use it as a calving ground.
Bingaman, who visited the refuge himself in 2002, contends that America could stretch its oil supplies much further through conservation than through additional drilling.
Bingaman also has said opening ANWR could make other federally protected lands more vulnerable to oil and gas drilling.
Eyes on Otero
The Bush administration also has its sights set on the Otero Wilderness area in southern New Mexico. The wilderness is projected to contain vast quantities of natural gas.
"It (opening ANWR) would be an additional step toward increased drilling and development," Bingaman said recently in Washington.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing, according to Norton, the U.S. Interior Secretary who toured the ConocoPhillips facility with Domenici and other members of Congress on Saturday.
Norton, in an interview, said ANWR is projected to hold by far the largest oil reserves in the United States. A U.S. Geologic Survey completed in 1998 estimated there are about 10 billion barrels of oil in the reserve, enough to supply New Mexico's petroleum needs for more than 200 years.
"There is clearly more oil in ANWR than in the entire state of New Mexico," Norton said, referring to the state's oil-rich Permian and San Juan basins.
She said there are major misconceptions about ANWR. One, she said, is that wildlife cannot thrive in and around oil exploration areas.
Surveys have shown that caribou herds have increased since companies began exploring for oil in Alaska's north slope, she said. She also said people should understand that the area to be opened in ANWR is just 2,000 acres, or less than one-hundredth of the reserve's total acreage.
With newly increased Republican majorities in the House and Senate, Domenici said he is hoping that this will be the year that Congress finally relents and opens ANWR to oil companies. He said he's convinced that exploration is a fundamental part of the solution to America's energy needs.
"Every barrel we produce means we don't have to buy it somewhere else," Domenici said.
Although a vast majority of Alaskans support ANWR drilling— some polls put the number as high as 75 percent— a vocal minority opposes it.
More than 300 people showed up at a protest rally in Fairbanks this week to assail the drilling plan as a short-sighted money grab by oil companies and the politicians who represent them.
Luci Beach, executive director of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, said the Gwich'in people— native Alaskans whose village lies 150 miles south of ANWR— are vehemently opposed to the drilling proposal because they fear it would damage the porcupine caribou's calving ground.
Thousands of pregnant caribou give birth each year near the area proposed for exploration. The Gwich'in worry that the extraction activity would disrupt this annual phenomenon and diminish the herds.
"Our relationship with the porcupine caribou herd is similar to that of the Plains Indian and the buffalo," Beach said Friday during an interview in her Fairbanks office. "It's what our culture is based on. We consider (ANWR) the sacred place where life begins."
"It's power and money that is prevailing and basically greed," Beach said.
While other Alaskans are among the most vocal supporters of opening ANWR, critics contend that's because they each stand to benefit if oil production is increased. Each Alaska resident— every man, woman and child— receives an annual dividend check from the state's permanent fund. Last year, each check was for $900.
But that doesn't mean Alaskans want to forsake their land for a check. The state has some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the country, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who traveled with Domenici on Saturday.
"I know that we can do this right in Alaska if given the opportunity," Murkowski said.
ANWR at a glance
· ANWR encompasses 19.6 million acres and is roughly the size of South Carolina. The refuge lies on the northernmost edge of Alaska, bordering the Beaufort Sea, and is about 60 miles east of the oil-producing fields of Prudhoe Bay.
· ANWR was established in 1960 as a home for grizzly bears, polar bears, arctic foxes, 180 species of birds and caribou, which migrate to the area each year to give birth to their young.
· The refuge is home to Inupiat Eskimos and Athabascan Indians, whose ancestors have lived in the area for generations.
· Scientists believe the most promising section of ANWR for oil exploration is about 1.5 million acres along the area's coastal plain. About 2,000 of these acres would be made available for drilling under legislative proposals.
· It's estimated that ANWR's coastal-plain region holds between 4 billion and 11.8 billion barrels of oil, with 7.6 billion barrels of recoverable oil. That compares to about 23 billion barrels of recoverable oil in tens of thousands of small fields in the Lower 48 states, according to the U.S. Geologic Survey.
· If oil exploration is permitted in ANWR, it could take between seven to 12 years for the necessary lease sales, permitting and environmental reviews to occur before production could begin.