NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


June 17, 2008

The green light given by the Fish and Wildlife Service for oil drilling off Alaska is being portrayed as an OK to hurt polar bears.  But there are so many polar bears, it's the drillers who should worry, says Investor's Business Daily (IBD).

Environmentalists rejoiced last month when Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne declared the polar bear endangered.  Last week, however, new Fish and Wildlife regulations gave legal protection to seven oil companies that plan to search for oil in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coast if "small numbers" of polar bears and Pacific walruses are incidentally harmed over the next five years. 

The fact is, polar bears aren't endangered, either by oil companies or climate change, says IBD.  The world polar bear population is at a modern high and growing:

  • Mitch Taylor, polar bear biologist with the Government of Nunavut, a territory in Canada, puts the current population at 24,000, up 40 percent since 1974.
  • Some 2,000 of these bears live in and around the Chukchi Sea, where the oil companies purchased leases worth $2.6 billion in February.
  • There's no proof of a single bear being harmed by oil operations in Alaska since 1993.
  • Since 1960, when the Alaska oil hunt began, only two oil-related bear fatalities have been documented.

Drilling in the Chukchi could potentially benefit Americans without harming polar bears:

  • The Mineral Management Service estimates we could recover 15 billion barrels of oil plus 76 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from the Chukchi Sea's 29.7 million acres.
  • Oil companies enjoyed a similar exclusion in the Chukchi from 1991 to 1996 and in the Beaufort Sea since 1993 with no effect on the bears.

Oil companies are criticized for not using their "obscene" profits to find more oil but then attacked when they want to.  Lift the polar bear's endangered status, says IBD, and drill in the Chukchi.

Source: "Alaska's Polar Bears: Going With The Floe?" Investor's Business Daily, June 16, 2008.


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