The drive for solutions ; Drilling would ease U.S. dependence


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

High gasoline prices once again are focusing attention on America 's dependence on foreign oil.

Congressional Democrats are blaming the president for higher fuel prices, while at the same time demanding that President Bush stop stocking our nation's strategic petroleum reserve and release some of its oil to lower current gas prices.

Their blame of the president and their proposed solutions would be laughable if the issues involved were not so serious and the politicians making them weren't acting so hypocritically.

The centerpiece of their hypocrisy is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- commonly known as ANWR.

The 1980 law that doubled the size of ANWR to 19 million acres explicitly called for Congress to develop a process through which exploration and production could be conducted on a relatively small part of it -- the 2,000-acre coastal plain.

Yet, over the past 24 years, anti-development forces in Congress have ignored America 's energy needs and prevented environmentally sensitive oil and gas development. This inaction is irresponsible.

Opening ANWR to oil and gas development will not make the United States energy-independent, but it will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil, shrink the country's trade deficit and, at the same time, provide jobs, state and local tax revenue, and royalty payments to the federal government.

In case it's lost on anyone, during this period of economic uncertainty, more jobs and more local, state and federal tax revenue are a good thing.

A March report by the U.S. Energy Information Agency found that ANWR would yield 876,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

In the past, the lawmakers who have blocked the development of ANWR have claimed that its oil production would have a negligible impact on fuel prices. However, 876,000 barrels per day is equal to about 36.8 million gallons of gasoline, jet and diesel fuel, heating oil and other products.

This is more than 8 1/2 times the amount -- 100,000 barrels per day -- that some lawmakers are demanding that the president release from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Because America 's energy needs will increase in the future, whether or not ANWR is developed, U.S. dependence on foreign oil will grow. The only debatable question is, by how much?

According to the Energy Information Agency report, absent ANWR production, the U.S. will import 70% of the oil it needs by 2025; if ANWR is developed, it will still import about 66% of its oil.

While this difference may not sound like a lot, it amounts to $12 billion less per year that the U.S. would ship overseas. If other domestic oil fields and public lands that are off-limits to production were brought on line, our dependence on foreign oil would further shrink.

ANWR would supply as much as 20% of the entire annual production in the U.S. To put this in perspective, the Energy Information Agency estimates that ANWR contains between 6 billion and 16 billion barrels of oil under its frozen expanse.

If only 6 billion barrels of oil were recovered in ANWR, in a time of emergency, ANWR could deliver enough oil to the U.S. to free us from dependence on Iraqi oil for 50 years or from Saudi Arabia for 30 years.

Opening ANWR is not a short-term fix for current gas prices since it would take 10 years to recover any oil found there. However, if we had made the decision to drill in 1980 or even in 1990 when it was last seriously considered, we would be less dependent today and fuel prices would be lower.

Will we be rehashing these same arguments again 10 years from now when another crisis in the Middle East, or Russia , or the Caspian Sea costs American lives and disrupts energy supplies?

In terms of jobs, ANWR's impact would be just as dramatic.

A 2003 study by the National Defense Council Foundation found that ANWR's oil could create more than 2.2 million jobs. This amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue and royalty payments. And this doesn't even begin to examine the impact that developing ANWR's vast amount of natural gas reserves would have on the U.S. economy and national security.

America 's prosperity depends in large part on energy use. For transportation it will be several decades at least before alternative fuel vehicles, be they hydrogen fuel cell, electric/battery or natural gas will be developed enough to satisfy a significant portion of U.S. transportation needs.

Accordingly, whatever other policies Congress and the president decide to undertake to increase America 's energy security, developing ANWR is a wise choice.

The overwhelming majority of Americans already know that; hopefully a majority on Capitol Hill will soon acknowledge that reality as well.

H. Sterling Burnett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis in Washington, D.C. This column was distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ( Wisconsin )