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On Drilling in ANWR

Posted on December 18, 2005
Filed Under Uncategorized |

By MA Nystrom
December 19, 2005
Cambridge, MA

An editorial in the December 15th issue of Investors Business Daily (IBD) titled “Homemade Deficit” calls attention to the ballooning US trade deficit and highlights serious concerns about America’s reliance on foreign oil.

I could not agree more. But from the editorial’s promising starting point, it goes on to make a complete non sequitur by bringing up ANWR – the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge – and rues the day that former President Clinton vetoed a bill that would have allowed oil companies to go drilling for profit on America’s public lands. According to IBD’s misguided editorial, drilling in ANWR would, “supply every drop of petroleum for Florida for 29 years, New York for 34 years, Illinois for 43 years. That’s a lot of oil.”

A lot of oil? Rather than lament Clinton’s 1995 veto, why not celebrate it as a brief moment of sanity in government. Why not reflect instead on the last energy crisis of the 1970’s and think about our lost opportunity to develop alternative energy sources 35 years ago? The Carter administration provided tax breaks and incentives to develop such alternatives, only to see them killed by the incoming Reagan administration. Think back thirty years and you realize how quickly the years go by, and how cheap oil is a drug that keeps us strung out and prevents us from innovating alternatives.

The editorial goes on to say that drilling in ANWR would mean “hundreds of thousands of jobs,” and that furthermore, they would not stop just at ANWR – it says business needs a green light from government on exploration in the Rocky Mountains, and on the environmentally sensitive continental shelves, too. “Regulatory ‘relief’ (my quotes, not theirs),” they melodramatically state, “is also vitally needed for the overworked refining sector…We’re free traders on most issues, but when it comes to oil, we’d rather not send billions of dollars to questionable regimes that even now are helping to fund jihad against the west.”

Please. If they are free traders, then they ought to know when to let the market work. Being a business paper, IBD surely knows the importance of the pricing mechanism in substitution and innovation. If oil becomes too expensive, we will simply use less, look for substitutes and innovate new sources of energy. Oil prices are already coming down, I suspect, for precisely these reasons. And I’m not sure what kind of “relief” the oil companies need, considering they have just reported all-time record earnings. Perhaps they are the ones that should be providing the “relief.”

The truth is that higher oil prices will force a change in the American economy that sorely needs changing. (See Wired article, “Why $5 gas is good for America” ) Are American’s so addicted that we need an oil well in a national refuge, or in the Rocky Mountains? Do we need to pollute the few remaining pristine spots on Earth in order to satisfy our oil fix for a few more years? While we’re at it, why don’t we just start a huge project to pave the entire planet with concrete? Think of how many jobs that would create, while making it so easy to drive everywhere! Wouldn’t you like to be able to drive to the top of Mount Everest in your SUV, rather than having to make an annoying, dangerous climb? A paved earth would be a safer, more prosperous earth, under IBD’s twisted logic.

A few more decades of cheap oil will do nothing to address our real long-term problem, which is that we are running out of oil, and it will only exacerbate our other real, long-term problem, which is that the earth is running a fever called global warming. What happens when we’ve drilled every well, ruined every national park, polluted every sea and continental shelf, warmed the earth and we’re still out of oil? That is real poverty. Thirty years from now we’ll be back up this same creek, only worse off because there will be no place left to drill, and thirty years of potential research on alternative energy will have been squandered.

IBD’s proposed “solution” is typical of what is wrong with the thinking that dominates American business today: Privatized profits, socialized costs, addressing only short term crises, completely ignoring long term problems and leaving the debts and the mess for our children to clean up. The oil crisis, Social Security, the national debt – they are different problems, all produced by the same thinking.

ANWR is managed for all Americans by the US government. This land is your land. This land is my land. This land is not the land of big oil. Of course big oil and their Washington lobbyists are eager to open ANWR – they stand to make huge profits at the expense of America. “All Americans will benefit,” they claim, “by the availability of cheap gas.”

Please. The price of gas in America does not, and never has, reflected its true cost. Economists have a term for this – it is known as “externality” – a cost that is not reflected in price, but rather one that is socialized, or paid by everyone. In the case of oil and other fossil fuels, that externality is global warming (which IBD no doubt disputes). 2005 will go down as the hottest year on record . Meanwhile, IBD, the big business complex it represents and the government we’ve lost control of want to go out in search of cheap oil at any cost, while our very house is on fire!

The problems we are facing as a global society are huge. IBD’s short-sighted solution is like putting a band-aid on a festering wound. The fact is that we’re all in this together. Do your part – drive less, ride a bike, take public transportation, seek out and support alternative energies and tell your senator or congressman to keep big oil out of ANWR.

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23 Comments so far
  1. Charles Bukowski December 18, 2005 6:41 pm

    Right on, brother. Tell it like it is.

  2. Jim in Alaska December 18, 2005 9:03 pm

    I have lived in Alaska for 26 years. Our reaources are rich our spirit is strong. Agreed that resources should be conserved, and alternatives used but…

    perhaps you should quit driving your car, heating your home, or using plastics, wearing cloths, all of which are made from oil. The amount of land that would be available for ANWR drilling is about the size of a postage stamp on a 5000 sq ft house.

    Go spend a day in ANWR in the summer and get eaten by the bugs, (a caribou loses a quart of blood a day), freeze your a_ _ in the winter. There’s nothing there and 99.9999% of americans will never go there or see it.

    Prudhoe Bay has succeeded, we have a 900 mile pipline all across the tundra and we are planning a 1200 mile gas pipeline. If it’s land you want to save for yourself, continue the delusion and keep watching the news and be part of the herd.

  3. M_Astera in Washington State December 18, 2005 9:43 pm

    This article is well said. There are actually quite a lot of people who give a damn about the world they live in and are leaving to their children and grandchildren. (Jim in Alaska being an exception.)

    I live in the Puget Sound area of Washington, and I have been associated with the lumber business for about thirty years, every aspect of it from logging to making jewelry boxes. I have watched what has happened to our prime timber and old growth forests. In the late seventies and through the eighties they cut more old growth timber from National Forest land than in the previous 100 years. This is true.

    And what sort of long term prosperity did we gain from cutting the last of our big Red Cedar to make suburban fences and decks? Big boom times, lots of new logging trucks and equipment sold, lots of work in the woods and in the mills for about twelve years, and then pfffft.

    Now the old growth is 95% gone, and it ain’t gonna grow back like that unless we wait 400 years.

    If this resource had been valued and conserved, it could have been harvested sustainably for…..forever. Clear old growth Red Cedar and Douglas Fir now sell for ten times what they sold for in the eighties, if you can get it.

    The same thing happened with the Redwoods in California a few decades earlier, most of them cut down to make grape stakes for vineyards and construction lumber.

    Another point: Is it conceivable that Nature has value all to itself, apart from what monetary value it has to humans? If you don’t think so, I pity you.

    GM sells cars in Europe that get 70+ MPG, and they are not hybrids. Chrysler does too. Why don’t we get to buy them here?

    And by the way, there is no friggin’ oil shortage. All of the pipelines are and have been full, all of the storage depots are and have been full. The shortage is a shortage of refineries, and the oil companies like it that way.

  4. David Kennedy December 19, 2005 5:37 am

    Drilling in Alaska should have been allowed but with stiff environmental controls. Now the USA has to go to war to secure oil assets. Which would have been better, a minor disruption in Alaska killing a few fish or a World War killing hundreds of thousands of people. In the future there will be oil wars to secure the dwindling oil resources. Alaskan oil could have diverted this. Now the USA is dependant on us Canadians and others.
    David Kennedy

  5. tz December 19, 2005 6:54 am

    The cost of health care is and will be a growing problem, yet I don’t think you will call for a government crack-down on gluttony, sloth, and lust, although these behaviors are as bad or worse for persons than their use of oil. (We see how well the semi tax semi ban thing on cigarettes is working out).

    A $20 Big-mac or whopper would be better for America, as would free bicycles and big rebates to those who agreed to wear chastity belts. Whose vice should we limit?

    Either we should have government meddling, and closing ANWR is meddling as much as subsidizing the developement of a ANWR. There should be fees proportional to the “externalities” you mention, and then we have a free market. And it isn’t ANWR, it is a tiny, tiny, region. It isn’t like clear-cutting. The same things were said of the Alaska Pipeline - all the Caribou should be dead by now if they were right.

    Change behavior? Change your own, or start with something more serious. Upcoming disasters? Social security, pensions, a dollar and/or derivitave collapse and a lot of other things are going to happen earlier and have a far worse effect. The NOLA levees were a known disaster waiting to happen and we didn’t fix them in time. Or the concentration of refineries in hurricane row? How many earthquake, tornado, flood, or other disasters are ready to cripple our economy?

    We also might get a nuclear terrorist attack. Or a 1918 “spanish flu” which would reduce oil consumption if it cuts our population by a large amount. We don’t know the future, and people have been predicting a market crash with the Dow below 7000 for a long time. Although it will happen (barring an immediate hyperinflation), most said it would be there or far below already. It doesn’t work that way. We don’t know the future. Yet we seem to want to become control-freaks over every panic story about what will happen 50 years hence, at least if it wouldn’t inconvience us - your vice needs to be micromanaged, but my vice is off limits?

    Finally, ANWR is not “my land” in any way if I can’t have any say on how it is to be used. It is no better than the “social security trust fund” - something that is an illusion. Government held the forests for a long time and prevented any small fire for decades until the underbrush built up and megafires broke out. Except for its remote location I wouldn’t doubt ANWR would be equally mismanaged. Let the companies bid for it but also put cash up front in escrow for any clean-up which might be necessary afterward (except that the government would spend today it like Social Security). If with that it is economically viable, then let it be developed.

  6. Scorched Earth December 19, 2005 7:10 am

    What unfortunate news. This only proves to me that the term ‘conservation’, when used by the government/corporate complex, really means ‘delay the plunder until sometime later.’

    The earth is one large interconnected system. The more of it we destroy, the less we have of it to help us and our children survive.

    There are energy alternatives and PLENTY of them. They just aren’t being explored and the knowledge is being suppressed. The only people who know about these alternatives are so called ‘loony environmentalists.’ Meanwhile, they are the only ones who are looking far enough ahead to see what the consequences of our actions are.


    “What befalls the earth befalls all the sons of the earth. This we know: the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood that unites us all. Man does not weave this web of life. He is merely a strand of it.
    Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
    -Chief Seattle (1786-1866)

    I will cry for the herds of porcupines in the north who will suffer as a result of this.

  7. Tom Wadzinski December 19, 2005 9:36 am

    Excuse me, but your self-indulgent ignorance about ANWR is appalling. As an Alaskan who has worked and traveled in and thru ANWR, in my opinion, it sucks!
    There is nothing there except mosquitos and black flies.
    The caribou will not be negatively affected in any way.
    There are no mountains there. Just mud flats and and more mud. Yes, there are ducks and geese. They are not in any danger either!
    The area to be drilled is miniscule. 99% of the rest of the area will still suck! If you want to go up there and hug the swamp grass. Please do so.
    Tom Wadzinski

  8. Scorched Earth December 19, 2005 1:09 pm

    Mr. Wazdinksi,

    The situation is never as simple as ‘this area will be affected while leaving the rest intact.’ All earth systems are interconnected to each other and spoiling one piece of the system will inevitably affect another in a negative way.

    Also, opening drilling there in ANWR also sets a precedent to start drilling in other sensitive areas that may not be as miserable as you say that ANWR is.

    Why not explore alternative sources of energy and alternative lifestyles instead?

  9. Westcott December 19, 2005 2:08 pm

    I was once walking on the AT in the White Mountains. The trail was carefully lined on either side by rocks and people were cautioned not to step outside of the trail because one might cause injury to the “endangered moss” which grew there. Ahead of me I came upon 50 girl scouts walking very slowly in single file. There was no way they would make way for me to pass them so I stepped off the trail and moved quickly beyond their group. As I passed I could hear the girl scout leader say to her group, “There goes a savage that doesn’t care about the environment.” I turned around and I yelled back- “This lichen will be here a hundred years after you all are dead.” (I did not mention that 50 girl scouts hiking together makes an environmental impact as well!)

    Drill in ANWR - the sooner the better.
    The Caribou will thrive.

  10. Administrator December 19, 2005 4:02 pm

    Thanks everyone, for sharing your perspectives. The power of America is in open honest debate of ideas - it is our foundation, and our future. This is obviously an emotional issue, and I think the people of the Great State of Alaska have different opinions than the rest of us. One of my best friends is from Alaska, and he is all for drilling in ANWR because of the jobs it would provide.

    I think M_Astera makes a good point in that there will be a period of prosperity, but nothing sustainable. When the oil is gone, it is gone.

    I’ll be the first to admit that I am ignorant - I’ve never been to Alaska, let alone ANWR. My main point is not so much the environmental concern about ANWR per se, but from a big picture structural view of how we’re spending our resources. Yes the lichen and the plants will be here long after we’re gone, but wouldn’t it be better if we focus on a way that we stick around sustainably?

    High oil prices will force alternatives to be found.

    In the end, I believe that the people of Alaska should be able to make the decision themselves. From my friend, I know that Alaskans get an annual “oil dividend” as their share of the oil profits. It amounts to a few thousand bucks each year. I think that is great.

    However, if our public lands are opened for drilling, I don’t believe it is right for a single company to take in the profits. Those profits - all of them, not just a “portion” - should go back to paying off the national debt, or funding alternative energy research or something. If we give up the rights to our public land , we should get something of equal or greater value, not just more “cheap” gas.


  11. Administrator December 19, 2005 4:18 pm

    p.s. Maybe the caribou aren’t all dead yet, but this article says global warming is responsible for a number of polar bear deaths (they’re drowning)


  12. Scippie December 19, 2005 7:22 pm

    I say what the hell let’s drain every drop dry and get it over with — the sooner the better. The American people won’t fix something until it’s broke — “Attention Deficit Democracy” about sums it up. Somewhat off topic, anyone care to estimate the total dollar cost of 24/7 television, in terms of lost productivity, health care costs, crime and the perhaps incalcuable damage caused by the public’s creeping inertia?

  13. B King December 19, 2005 7:24 pm

    I think we should sell Alaska to China and Japan or maybe Russia for $12 trillion and get out of our of economic mess. What a return on a $7 million investment, heh? If you look at it from a population perspective it’s only 655,435 (Alaska popluation) / 293,655,404 (US population) or 0.0022. Thus it wouldn’t affect 99.78% of the population.

    Small sacrafice for a bunch land no one will visit anyhow. In the end 299 million US citizens would get a huge Alaskan dividend next year.

  14. King George December 19, 2005 8:02 pm

    I’m 100% with Scippie (no. 12). Use it up as fast as we can and while we’re at it might as well take down more redwoods. The majority of humans on planet earth will always be self-centered and to hell with their neighbors. Life in the post-oil age will suck but then that’s the way it was before oil. Thank whatever gods that this planet is many - many light years from other planets that might harbor intelligent life so we can’t contaminate them.

  15. Marty Riske December 19, 2005 9:14 pm

    Government is overhead. If government is involved, as it is in oil, gasoline will cost more, plain and simple. People generate smog. Don’t tell us what you want the government to do to us, tell us what you are doing yourself to reduce waste from your life. Do you think you are going to declare that the Chinese shouldn’t have 300 million cars? How many should India have? http://www.mises.org

  16. Kentar December 19, 2005 11:36 pm

    Unfortunately, ANWR’s oil will be drilled and drained eventually. It is too economically attractive and too strategically important to leave there. Should we drill it now when oil is still relatively abundant and can be traded for a few Federal Reserve Notes or wait until we can’t otherwise get foreign oil? As M_Astera (#3 above) noted about the value of old growth trees, it will be worth much more in the future. I hope that we can think of it as a savings account for now.

    When oil gets really expensive, the market will attempt to right itself. Hopefully, inventors and innovators will make fortunes solving the problems; otherwise, we will only be able to conserve. If our society is able to invent/innovate/develop enough alternative energy sources, then we won’t need to raid the piggy bank. If, on the other hand, we can’t satisfy our needs (food, fiber, shelter, defense) due to a lack of oil, then we’ll be glad that we have a little set aside to help tide us over.

    So when should we start drilling? As soon as we cannot get oil for empty paper promises.

  17. Havaford December 20, 2005 5:21 am

    Nystrom is right: Drill now, and you only delay the inevitable. You squander time.

    By The Associated Press
    Sunday, December 18, 2005

    NEW YORK — Alaskan North Slope crude oil production, once heralded as a domestic mother lode, has hit a new output low — embodying the precarious balance confronting the United States as it struggles for energy security in an era of volatility in the international oil market.

    The decline in Alaska is led by a slump in output from the once-mammoth Prudhoe Bay field, which has been producing since 1969. At its height in fiscal 1988, the field produced an average of 1.6 million barrels per day; but in fiscal 2005, it was down to 381,000 barrels per day. Overall production in the North Slope has dropped to an average of 916,000 barrels per day from 2.01 million barrels in the same period.


    When will we human learn the big lessons, not the cheap lessons?

  18. SB December 20, 2005 2:42 pm

    It is assumed we went to war for Oil. That is a very shallow assumption.

    It is assumed that the oil from Alaska would make us significantly less dependent, that is a shallow assumption. (key word ‘significantly’)

    It is nice to hear from the experienced in the group that bring us the valuable perspective that the economic benefits to the area as well as to the country are short lived. I love it when experience talks.

    It is assumed that Alaska is worth 12 Trillion dollars, humm… When you can not meet your mortgage, the bank forecloses. It is the USA that is the collateral, I am not sure that the central banks that hold most of our IOU’s will settle for Alaska.

    Although if we could sell it for 12 trillion, that would be one hell of a deal. Great idea actually. And considering Bill and Tim’s view of how land should be used, they should not mind if we sell their state, they will understand. Maybe in the payoff they get a condo in Scottsdale, AZ.

    But unless we gain even more weight and realize we simply can not get up from the couch, we will fight before we give up any American territory. I will fight. But I will remember that I will be fighting on the wrong side of ‘right.’ We spent other people’s money. How we spent it is irrelevant, if we do not pay it back, we are stealing it.

    I thank Nystrom for making his comments public. There are so many oil alternate technologies that are well along their development paths. Had Carter’s incentives stayed active under Regan, most likely we would not be having this discussion at all.

    What can we do now that would do more than open new oil fields in Alaska? Drive less. How can you change your habits to cut your local driving down by 20%? If we all do that, we have achieved the same goal and at the same time taken a bite out of the air, noise, and solid waste pollution problem not to mention a reduction of green house gasses.

    Do not want to do that? Your neighbors do not want to do that? Then we will all pay the piper when the time comes (as Nystrom points out, the Polar Bears already are.)


  19. Timo Viitanen December 20, 2005 4:36 pm

    I agree with Mike.

    Do the research now and quit pushing for new drilling.
    Why delay the obvious which will come anyway?

    Well said and well written.


  20. Administrator December 20, 2005 7:26 pm

    Agreed with SB - it does not have to take heroic efforts to reduce our dependence on oil. Cut down on driving 20% - that means take the bus, or carpool once a week to work. Turn out the lights when you leave the room.

    I had a friend from Germany who was appauled at the lights that burn in the empty hallways of the apartment complexes all night. In her building in Berlin, when you got home, you hit the switch to turn on the lights in the hallway. The lights were on a timer, so by the time you walked (yes, walked - not rode the elevator) up to your flat, got inside and locked your door, the lights would go out in the hallway automatically. That saves a lot.

    I just moved to the US from Taiwan. We have a gas stove in our apartment in Cambridge, and the stove has 3 pilot lights. (One for the oven, and two that are shared among the four burners on the top). I cannot believe this! Multiply this useless burning of pilot lights by all the apartments in my building, all the buildings in Cambridge, by all the cities in the US, and that is *A LOT* of natural gas needlessly being burned. In Taiwan we also used gas to cook, but there were no pilot lights — there was a little electronic sparker that lit the gas when you turned it on - kind of like the flint on a butane cigarette lighter. No waste.

    There is a lot of fat we could cut quite easily without cutting our standard of living. Other ideas welcome.


  21. mj December 22, 2005 12:53 pm

    I agree. Stay out of ANWR. WE are burning up the cheap oil fast enough right now - no need to add more. When we are paying about $7.00 a gallon and begin weaning ourselves off the gas guzzlers, then we might need to look at ANWR. Right now we don’t deserve more cheap oil to burn up in vehicles. We will be in desperate need of oil in the future for petrochemicals. Right now we are squandering this precious material and there is no reason to keep encouraging the waste and foolishness.

  22. dale December 23, 2005 1:23 pm

    I think we should everything in our power to protect the – oh wait, this about drilling for oil in ANWR? Go for it. I don’t want really want anymore US soldiers and Iraqi civilians maimed or killed in pursuit of oil; call me a humanitarian. I also don’t want anymore depleted uranium spread across the planet; call me an environmentalist.

    Yes, it’s a shame to damage the far north just to keep the machine running. But, methinks we’re in a bind at the moment. We could use a years worth of oil. And by the time it’s actually available, we will be wasting far less. Start drilling tonight…

  23. manystrom December 27, 2005 6:55 pm

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