Politico: OPINION: Unlock ANWR now

The time to develop our domestic oil reserves in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is now.

For far too long, we’ve kept under lock and key the resources that could improve our energy security, create badly needed jobs and provide a stream of revenue to pay down the national debt.

Rising gasoline prices, President Barack Obama’s de facto moratorium on offshore drilling, record unemployment and a ballooning $14 trillion national debt are just some of the economic reasons why tapping the ANWR reserves makes sense.

A growing number of Americans agree that the time is now. Almost 50 percent support drilling oil in the nonwilderness portion of ANWR, according to a Gallup Poll.

Growing unrest in the Middle East, which has pushed oil above $100 a barrel and threatens to drive gasoline prices north of $4 a gallon, has also heightened national security concerns.

Even when international events are not causing price spikes, the United States’ deep dependence on foreign oil comes at a staggering cost. We spent an estimated $337 billion on oil imports last year. Petroleum-related imports accounted for 62 percent of our trade deficit in December.

Our dependence on imported oil is also hamstringing Washington when it comes to making foreign policy decisions. It’s difficult to speak truth to dictators when you’re dependent on them to keep your economy working.

It doesn’t have to be this way. While we’re not about to produce 100 percent of the oil we need, every drop we pump from U.S. wells is one less dollar we send abroad and one less job we export. It’s not a case of lacking the resources; we simply lack the will to produce them.

The ANWR coastal plain — a 1.5 million-acre area that Congress set aside from the rest of the 19 million-acre refuge because of its oil and natural gas potential — has at least 6 billion barrels, and very possibly 16 billion barrels, of recoverable oil, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. It is North America’s single greatest onshore prospect for increasing domestic production.

By allowing surface development on just 2,000 acres of the coastal plain, we could dramatically increase domestic oil production and bring about a huge range of benefits for our nation.

At today’s oil prices, the federal government would receive an estimated $153 billion in the form of lease bonuses, royalties and taxes. That’s new money, which could be used to pay down the national debt and fund government services.

Exploration and production in ANWR could create more than 60,000 private-sector jobs and contribute billions of dollars to the national economy — benefits that would be felt in all 50 states.

Opening ANWR would also stave off a looming disaster by refilling the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

From its peak of carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil a day, the pipeline system now carries just 650,000 barrels on a good day. If this trend continues, the pipeline will become physically and financially inoperable within a few years.

A permanent shutdown of the pipeline — which now delivers 13 percent of the nation’s domestic oil production — would have devastating consequences for both Alaska’s economy and America’s energy security.

For years, the debate over ANWR has centered on whether production can be done safely, without harm to the sensitive lands within the refuge. In truth, there’s no reason for concern.

Just about everyone agrees that much of ANWR — with its diverse wildlife and beautiful scenery — is worth preserving. What’s less known is that ANWR is roughly the size of South Carolina and has been divided into wilderness and nonwilderness portions.

The 2,000 acres that could be opened to development through congressional legislation account for just 0.01 percent of the entire refuge. They’re in its barren, nonwilderness portion.

Those who oppose development don’t just mislead about where it would take place, however. They also ignore Alaskans’ sterling record of environmental stewardship.

We have made continuous improvements in safety and sustainability. Responsible oil production has now been safely occurring in Alaska’s Arctic for more than 30 years. And we have preserved our spectacular natural surroundings so that future generations may enjoy them as we do today.

Since America will continue to rely on oil for the indefinite future, it is in the best interest of our economy, energy security and the global environment to produce as much as possible here at home.

ANWR is the place to start.

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is the state’s senior senator and the ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.



Source: By: Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Originally Published on April 8, 2011