Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist
The last word (yeah, right) on ANWR oil drilling
Two weeks ago in this space I argued for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ANWR oil, I said, is at the end of the Alaska...
Two weeks ago in this space I argued for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. ANWR oil, I said, is at the end of the Alaska Pipeline and will be available only as long as the pipeline is, which is a few decades. The wildlife, I said, will survive because the footprint of modern oil drilling is small and because there is no need to develop the Arctic coast for anything else. And I asserted, "Our civilization needs the oil."
Dozens of readers told me I was wrong. Consider what they attacked and what they let stand.
Several asserted that drilling would spoil the refuge, but not one argued that it would kill the animals. The first question is esthetic or spiritual; the second, scientific. On the scientific question, they gave me a pass.
What set them fuming was my statement, "Our civilization needs the oil."
One response was that Americans may need the oil, but won't get it. "The bulk of this oil will go to China, Korea and Japan," one reader wrote. "Regular U.S. citizens (and taxpayers) get nothing from this." Assume the oil goes to Asia. The conclusion does not follow. From ANWR oil, Americans would get taxes, royalties and jobs. Also we would get some slack in the oil market, because if China buys more oil from Alaska, it buys less from someplace else.
The oil market is global, which means that supply from anywhere benefits consumers everywhere. Demand from anywhere is felt everywhere. Indeed, the most commonly given reason for gas rising above $2 in the United States is increased demand in China.
Several readers argued that we don't need ANWR oil because the world has enough. "The Middle East is awash in oil," one wrote. The market suggests otherwise, but at least his conclusion — don't drill — follows logically.
But a number of readers argued that the world is running out of oil, so therefore don't look for any more. A believer in "peak oil" — the running-out thesis — wrote, "Drilling there won't help. We use 22 million barrels a day, at most there are four billion barrels there. You do the math — if you can."
Four billion barrels will help. How could they not?
Many readers tended to argue that if a solution wasn't "sustainable," meaning that it wouldn't solve our energy problem forever, we shouldn't consider it. The reason why solar, wind and other perpetual energy sources are still tiny, they said, is that the oil industry has blocked them. "The level of effort and money expended to date to find alternative sources of energy is about that of Orville and Wilbur in their garage," wrote one reader, who said, "What we need is a Manhattan Project."
Well, we had synfuels. That was a big government project.
Another wrote me that Denmark, which gets 15 to 20 percent of its electricity from windmills, has gone from "being 98 percent dependent upon foreign oil/energy in 1975 to being an exporter of energy today." Learn from Denmark!
But the larger reason Denmark is an energy exporter is its aggressive drilling in the North Sea. Denmark has increased its oil reserves to 1.3 billion barrels — a lot for Denmark, though only one-third of what is said to be under ANWR.
Of all the rebuttals, the one I heard the most was that we shouldn't drill for any more oil until we quit wasting it. One wrote: "We squander energy simply because it's cheap. We use gasoline — a product of a precious, non-renewable resource — not just to save us from walking back from the store with a heavy bag of groceries or a rented DVD, but to blow leaves from the sidewalk to the gutter. We live as if there's no tomorrow. We don't 'need' more oil. We just 'want' it."
A Seattle woman wrote: "What do you need, really? Have you ever stopped to consider that?"
If that is our philosophy, we should decide not only against drilling in ANWR, but anywhere, or expanding our standard of living at all. Because whatever we have, some people will waste — or be perceived as wasting.
Finally, of my argument that because of the pipeline, a decision not to drill in ANWR in the next few decades is a decision to abandon the oil: none of my correspondents said a word.
Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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