Thursday, December 22, 2005

No Oil For Uncle Ted This Christmas

At last, enough members of the Senate took a stand against Senator Ted Stevens' (R-AK) latest efforts to pillage the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve.

From RedOrbit:

The Senate blocked oil drilling in an Alaska wildlife refuge Wednesday, rejecting a must-pass defense spending bill where supporters positioned the quarter-century-old environmental issue to garner broader support.

Drilling backers fell four votes short of getting the required 60 votes to avoid a threatened filibuster of the defense measure over the oil drilling issue. Senate leaders were expected to withdraw the legislation so it could be reworked without the refuge language. The vote was 56-44.

Attaching this drilling amendment to a mandatory defense spending bill, that also contained aid for Katrina victims, is pretty despicable even by Uncle Ted's standards. Stevens has made quite a reputation for bringing home federal "pork" for the state of Alaska and the ANWR drilling issue is no exception.

The legislation anticipates about $5 billion in federal revenue bonus bids from oil leases, the first of which must be issued within 22 months and the second package in 2010. Half of the lease proceeds and future royalties from oil production would go to Alaska.

I think it's quite time we can set aside the tired "drill in ANWR for national security" canard. It's obvious that Uncle Ted is not attempting to address either national security or energy issues with his misguided legislative efforts. He's interested in securing future dollars to support Alaska's declining oil industry. Hopefully 25 years of being told "No, you may not destroy ANWR for oil company profits" has finally sunk in to Stevens' thick skull. He had actually threatened to throw yet another tantrum and resign if he didn't get his way on this amendment, so let's hope exercises integrity as one of those "moral values" in which his party pretends to believe.

As I've noted before, there really is no supply-side solution to our oil needs in the United States. Drilling in ANWR just adds more crude to the world market and is as likely to end up in China or India as in the United States. The only way to guarantee the United States would reap a kind of exclusivity advantage from the ANWR oil would be for the federal government to nationalize the ANWR drilling operation. Given the universal contempt Republicans have for anything resembling socialism or government regulation, this idea isn't even worthy of consideration. As usual, the real benefit to opening ANWR will go to the large oil companies able to bid for the leases. These same companies have already achieved record profits in 2005, so much so that they admitted in testimony before Congress that they didn't even need the $10 billion in tax subsidies passed for them in the Energy Act.

Clearly the benefits of opening ANWR for drilling are suspect at best, unless you've an ownership stake in a major oil firm or are a northern Alaskan factory working looking for a job. So what is the downside to opening ANWR for drilling? By way of example, it's worth looking at the Prudhoe Bay oil facilities (pictured above):

Prudhoe Bay is an important issue to consider when reviewing the ANWR controversy, because it provides an example of the consequences and effects of constructing a large oil field in an almost identical environment. According to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Spill Data Base, there are on average 409 reported spills at Prudhoe Bay. While most of these spills are small, 1.3 million gallons of 40 different substances ranging from acid waste to oil have been spilled between 1996 and 1999. Studies of diesel spills in the arctic have shown that 28 years after the spilling occurred there is still little vegetation recovery and hydrocarbons remain in the soil, which is evidence that the future of wildlife surrounding oil fields is constantly in danger. The oil fields disrupt the symbiosis existing in nature; thus, when vegetation is destroyed, the survival of the animals relying on that vegetation as their sustenance is also at risk. Also, studies conducted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show that the female caribou productivity around the North Slope oil fields, including Prudhoe Bay, has declined since oil production began because of the interruption of their calving grounds. The caribou demonstrate a 3-4 kilometer avoidance of the structures on the oil fields, including roads and pipelines, and the same result is to be expected if the ANWR is developed for oil production.

It's reasonable to assume that any oil facility in ANWR is not likely to have any less a negative impact on the environment as the Prudhoe Bay facility has had. The wholesale destruction of the environment and the wildlife living in ANWR are certainly not justified by oil company profits or a slight blip in the world's petroleum supply. As usual, the business interest that own the Republican party have no interest in any workable long term energy solution, nor do they seem to have much concern about befouling the planet we all live upon. Drilling in ANWR is just one more myopic Republican policy born out of corporate greed and it's time to send a message to the Republicans (and especially Uncle Ted) that ANWR belongs to all of us, not just moneyed interests in Washington.

And we'd like to keep the "Wildlife Refuge" in the name relevant, thanks.

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