July 19, 2008

Exploring Refuge Wouldn’t Exploit It

By JAMES E. SALMON, Special to the Courier & Press

There have been many references in the news to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and whether oil and natural gas exploration should take place in this area. I was curious about this area and why Congress has failed to approve its exploration. Following are facts on ANWR that I found on the Internet.

ANWR is located in the northeast corner of Alaska, 1,300 miles south of the North Pole. It was originally formed in 1960 with 8.9 million acres. In 1980 and 1983 additional acreage was added to bring the current size to 19.6 million acres.

Despite its name, ANWR is not entirely "refuge." It is divided into three parts: the southern 9.16 million acres officially is classified as "refuge;" the central 8 million acres is classified as "wilderness;" and the northernmost 1.5 million acres is "10-02."

The 10-02 area takes its name from the section of the congressional bill that expanded ANWR in 1980 and set aside 1.5 million acres of the Arctic Coastal Plain specifically for "oil and gas exploration."

This area is classified neither as refuge nor wilderness. It is defined and separated by Congress for oil and gas exploration because of the well-known geological evidence of potentially large hydrocarbon deposits. It is completely flat and barren with no trees, hills or mountains. Nine months of the year it is covered with snow and ice and practically void of life. Three of those months are in total 24-hour darkness. In the six weeks of summer the coastal plain is dotted with thousands of lakes and is covered by boggy tundra on permafrost (permanently frozen ground).

To say or suggest that "the refuge" - meaning ANWR's entire area - would be opened for oil and gas exploration is completely false. The congressional definitions of refuge and wilderness, which comprises more than 92 percent of the ANWR area, forbids development of any kind.

Despite its specific oil and gas definition, exploration of the 10-02 area cannot take place without congressional approval.

Alaska's Gov. Sara Palin has talked about the importance of this area to help alleviate the energy crisis. She estimated more than $200 billion in federal taxes would be raised, which could be used to fund alternative energies.

Minority Natural Resources Committee Chairman Don Young introduced HR 6107, the American Energy Independence and Price Reduction Act. The bill calls for the opening of the 10-02 area to responsible oil and gas development and using the funds generated from oil production taxes to set up an Alternative Energy Trust Fund. The funds generated would provide a way forward from a finite oil supply and would cost the taxpayers of America not one penny.

According to an article in the Courier & Press, 153 representatives have signed a discharge petition to force a floor vote on the "No More Excuses Energy Act" intended to boost production of homegrown energy. Dan Burton, Mark E. Souder and Mike Pence from Indiana have all signed on, but Brad Ellsworth has refused to sign.

Based on the facts and the need for additional domestic oil and natural gas, I am more puzzled than ever why Congress has not acted to open up the region for oil and gas production years ago.

Is this another example of how ineffective Congress is in dealing with the problems facing this country? Or is it because of some selfish political reason that keeps Congress from acting in the best interest of the country to secure additional supplies of oil and natural gas?

I would suggest we all write to our senators and representatives and encourage them to vote for exploration not only in 10-02 area but in other promising areas, as well.

James E. Salmon is a resident of Evansville.

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