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Let's get on with energy security
by Gov. Frank Murkowski


July 14, 2004

Will the real Bruce Babbitt please stand up?

In 2001, Babbitt said, "If they'll turn around and look west (from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) instead of east, they'll find they can drill undisturbed for 1,000 miles - all the way to Siberia." He was referring to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A), which President Harding set aside for oil for the Navy back in 1923.

While he was wrong on ANWR, he was right to tout the prospects of the petroleum reserve. A representative of the American Petroleum Institute said, "If we're able to fully develop NPR-A and its 10.6 billion barrels of oil, we'll be able to produce about a million barrels a day. ... That would reduce our import dependence by 10 percent."

But now that the Bureau of Land Management is actively looking west for new oil and gas development, Babbitt doesn't like it.

A staunch preservationist, President Bill Clinton's former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbit has always been against natural resource development in ANWR. Now that leasing has actually begun there he's against oil exploration and development in NPR-A. Makes you wonder - if you can't look for oil in a petroleum reserve, where can you look?

Why has Babbitt changed his position? Science and technology is even more advanced today. We now know how to drill around migration times to not disturb area wildlife. The war on terror continues to prove overseas oil reserves unreliable.

The truth is Babbitt and the Clinton administration originally proposed exploration of the petroleum reserve as a diversion to avoid opening ANWR. (Congress agreed to open ANWR in 1995 but Clinton vetoed it.) Now that the BLM is doing the environmental work to make leases available in the reserve, Babbitt's anti-development agenda is seen for what it is.

Babbitt says drilling in the petroleum reserve will disrupt wildlife, spoil untouched lands, and ruin the biological heart of the western Arctic.

This is simply untrue and represents a reversal of his own public statements. When Babbitt considered opening the petroleum reserve in 1997 he said, "This is an unprecedented opportunity for cooperation that can bring long-term benefits for everyone. ... Using high-quality science, state-of-the-art technology and an open dialogue with the public ... ."

In 1981, Congress directed the secretary of the interior to implement an oil and gas leasing program on federal land on an "expeditious" basis.

Following this mandate, the BLM recently proposed to amend its 1998 plan for the northeast corner of NPR-A to make an additional 387,000 acres of land available for oil and gas leasing and to develop performance-based measures and operating procedures to protect the environment.

Approximately 213,000 acres would remain off-limits to oil leasing and stipulations would be formulated to regulate exploration and development in other areas, including around lakes and rivers, and protect habitat and subsistence activities.

The existing plan has a potential of 600 million barrels of economically recoverable oil; the new plan as much as 2.1 billion barrels of oil.

Babbitt's bait and switch on NPR-A is hard for him and his colleagues to justify in light of their previous statements.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, also an opponent of ANWR oil development said, "In addition, more than 95 percent of Alaska's North Slope, which has been targeted as an oil-rich area, is currently available for drilling."

And finally, Congresswoman Nancy Johnson, a noted environmentalist, opined, "Alternatives? You bet there are alternatives. In the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve area, there are over 50 million undeveloped acres available for oil drilling."

To those who justify their opposition to expanded oil leasing in the petroleum reserve saying that additional production would provide only a small percentage of the nation's needs, I ask where do we start in the effort to enhance our nation's energy security if not in an oil reserve?

Developing the petroleum reserve would also add billions of dollars into the United States economy and add hundreds of good-paying jobs.

Let's get on with the energy security of the United States and develop the petroleum reserve now.



Note: Frank Murkowski is the Governor of Alaska and a former United States senator.


Note: Comments published on Viewpoints are the opinions of the writer
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.



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