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Chasing the oil mirage

Editorial for March 24, 2005

Two things to remember in politics: 1) Our political leaders do not always follow a wise course, and 2) just because a majority votes for something does not make it right.

On March 16, the U.S. Senate voted 51-49 to allow energy exploration in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The move opens the door to drilling for oil in a 1.5 million acre portion of the wildlife refuge, which covers a total of 19.6 million acres.

Those pushing to open the wildlife refuge to oil rigs and pipelines (and the network of roads and trucks needed to get them there) contend the move will make our nation less dependent on foreign oil.

It's a mirage.

Make no mistake. No matter how much oil is there in Alaska, it won't last very long at the rate we burn it up. If we had truly wise leaders, the push would not be to find and exploit the last remaining portion of a rapidly declining resource. It would be to come up with a new approach, an innovative solution to our energy needs.

Those who clamor to be allowed to bring heavy industry into a wildlife refuge are part of the same industry that has hooked the American people on huge, so-called "luxury" cars that offer abysmal energy efficiency. It is impossible to believe them when they claim they care about our energy independence, because we could have that independence without more drilling. But it would require fresh thinking, and, heaven forbid, having to make some changes -- so we can just forget about that.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency has estimated that tapping the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would, in a best case scenario, reduce our imports of foreign oil by about four percent.

And that's provided the oil is even kept in the United States, and that's no certainty. Many believe the oil will simply be exported, which, if true, underscores why so many people believe this particular deal is much more about funneling more dollars toward the energy conglomerates than about doing anything to help the American motorist, our national security needs, or any other noble cause.

There is no reason to believe that the additional oil and gas expected to be available in Alaska will do anything to reduce the cost of gasoline here at home. And even if it did help by a couple pennies or a nickel per gallon, how can anyone believe that is worth the cost to this national treasure of unique wildlife populations?

It's already very late to begin sincerely focusing on a new approach, such as increasing the production of hybrid vehicles, hydrogen-powered vehicles, solar powered vehicles, electric vehicles (or even just building cars with better fuel efficiency), encouraging conservation, and improving mass transit options. Allowing the oil companies into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge now just means it will be more years before anyone in Washington, D.C., starts to get really serious about finding better sources of energy.

More than that, it's heartbreaking to believe that we as a people are willing to allow one of the last virtually untouched, pristine areas in North America -- set aside by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960 -- to be fouled by oil drilling. How greedy do we have to be?


END Editorial


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