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Originally published Thursday, March 31, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

An honest look at the facts surrounding ANWR drilling

For more than a century, the economic vitality of Washington state and Alaska has been intertwined. From the Gold Rush to the oil boom...

Special to The Times

For more than a century, the economic vitality of Washington state and Alaska has been intertwined. From the Gold Rush to the oil boom, money and natural resources leaving Alaska have passed through Washington, creating tens of thousands of jobs. Seattle-based companies are key investors in Alaska's multibillion-dollar seafood, shipping, tourism and retail industries.

The benefits to Washington state's economy will continue to grow if Congress approves oil development in a small section of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Washington's five oil refineries process billions of dollars of Alaska crude, supplying consumers throughout the Northwest with energy. Washington alone consumes 18 million gallons of petroleum daily. Apparently, not everyone is traveling to their destinations on bicycles. If Alaska's crude oil were not available, Washington state would be getting its oil supply from Middle Eastern nations in foreign ships with foreign crews, built in foreign shipyards.

More than half of this country's oil comes from foreign sources, particularly OPEC. America needs American oil — to reduce our dependence on the foreign oil that threatens our national security. We must develop energy sources in America, for the American consumer, while safeguarding American security.

Alaska's environmental standards are the highest in the world, and yet Washington Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray — opponents of ANWR drilling — have repeatedly declined my invitations to visit ANWR and see firsthand this area of national importance.

Your senators would have witnessed that Alaska mandates the highest environmental standards in the world. Technological advances in environmentally friendly drilling, developed in Alaska, have been transferred to other locations around the globe, lifting the bar for the entire industry.

Protecting the environment is a global issue, not just an Alaskan issue. Stopping the exploration of ANWR only shifts oil production to other parts of the world where environmental standards are lower.

Advances in directional drilling make the footprint in ANWR extremely small. Use of only 2,000 acres for ANWR development is authorized in the House energy bill, yet ANWR is 19 million acres, about the size of Colorado.

Federal biologists began surveying the Central Arctic caribou herd in 1978, after the Alaska pipeline began operation. Since then, the herd has grown from 5,000 to over 32,000 animals. Alaska has proven it can be responsible; wildlife in ANWR will continue to coexist with cautious oil and gas exploration.

ANWR is not like other federal land. When it became a refuge in 1980, the enormous oil potential in the "1002 area" was already known. This small area of ANWR was given a special designation that allowed for oil drilling with authorization from Congress and the president's signature.

Critics falsely claim ANWR will only produce six months of oil. This incorrectly assumes ANWR would be the only oil field in operation in the world. In fact, ANWR oil will make significant contributions to the nation's energy supply for decades, replacing what we import from Saudi Arabia for the next 20 years. To bring this statistic home, ANWR alone would supply the state of Washington with all of its oil needs for 15 years.

Some estimates use the most pessimistic production figures by counting only 3.5 billion barrels of oil. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates between 12 billion and 32 billion barrels exist in the ANWR "1002 area," of which between 6 billion and 16 billion barrels are recoverable using current technology.

Some say ANWR will take at least seven years to begin production. That delay is because of the comprehensive environmental-impact study necessary to ensure that the environment is protected.

Like all Americans, I support research and technological development in alternative energies so that in the future we can reduce our energy dependence. But we must be realistic — right now the world moves on oil and that will be the case for years to come. Until the arrival of new energy technology, oil from ANWR can significantly help in easing our dependence on foreign imports.

Producing oil in Alaska means high-paying careers for American workers, not foreigners. Companies friendly to our country will profit, rather than governments that would prefer our demise.

We need an honest discussion of the facts and science regarding responsible ANWR oil production and its numerous benefits for America. Please encourage Washington state's two senators to actually visit the North Slope of Alaska and see what they are voting against at the expense of their own state, Alaska and America's national-security interests.

Frank H. Murkowski is the governor of Alaska.

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