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Friday, May 23, 2008

A Thimble-Full of Nuthin'

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
By far the most promising site for oil in America is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Technology now makes it possible to reach the oil reserves in ANWR by drilling on just 2,000 of the 19 million acres. Developing this tiny area could eventually yield up to a million barrels of oil every day -- and that million barrels of oil a day would be -- would make us less dependent on foreign sources of energy. Thanks to technology, we can reach ANWR's oil with almost no impact on the land or local wildlife. To make America less dependent, Congress needs to pass a pro-growth, pro-jobs, pro-environment development of ANWR. It makes sense. It is an important part of a comprehensive strategy.
--George W. Bush, "President Discusses Energy Policy," 2005

Why are gas prices so high? If you ask George W. Bush, he'll tell you it's Congress's fault. "One of the main reasons for high gas prices is that global oil production is not keeping up with growing demand,” Bush said last month. “Members of Congress have been vocal about foreign governments increasing their oil production, yet Congress has been just as vocal in opposition to efforts to expand our production here at home."

Bush's solution was what Bush's solution always is -- drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). According to him, this would "likely mean lower gas prices."

The Washington Post called this a return to "first-term answers to rising gas prices." Bush has always wanted to drill in ANWR, despite the fact that there's a thimble-full of oil up there. Drilling in Alaska has been like tax cuts for George W. Bush -- whatever the problem, it's the solution. When the economy's doing well, tax cuts are needed to keep it going. When the economy's doing poorly, tax cuts are needed to fix it. There is never a time when tax cuts -- especially the radically top-heavy cuts favored by Bush -- are not the answer to the problem.

So it's been with drilling in ANWR. When we're too dependent on foreign oil, we need to drill in ANWR. When prices are too high, we have to drill in ANWR. If the weather report predicts patchy clouds, we have to drill in ANWR. No matter what the problem, the puddle of oil under the Alaskan wilderness is the answer.

That is, unless you ask Bush's Department of Energy. The department issued a report last night that showed that drilling in ANWR wouldn't actually do much of anything. We'd wind up knocking $0.75 off the price. Not per gallon, mind you, but per barrel.

McClatchy Newspapers:

If Congress were to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, crude oil prices would probably drop by an average of only 75 cents a barrel, according to Department of Energy projections issued Thursday.

The report, which was requested in December by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, found that oil production in the refuge "is not projected to have a large impact on world oil prices."

That's not to say that it wouldn't have any effect at all. And it's the other effects which explain Bush's obsession with drilling in the refuge. Those effects have nothing to do with you or your wallet. Big surprise, they have to do with corporations.

McClatchy tells us, "[T]he report also finds that opening ANWR could have other benefits, particularly in Alaska, where tapping the resources in the Arctic refuge could extend the lifespan of the trans-Alaska pipeline. It estimates that if Congress agreed to open ANWR this year, Alaskan oil could hit the market in about 10 years."

The pipeline, known as the Alyeska Pipeline locally, is a private enterprise. If we go to, we find the pipeline is jointly owned by "BP Pipelines (Alaska) Inc., Exxon Pipeline Co., Mobile Alaska Pipeline Co., Amerada Hess Pipeline Corp., Phillips Alaska Pipeline Corp., and Unocal Pipeline Co." Imagine my shock.

While Bush's dream of drilling in the refuge is rationalized by high gas prices and Congress's unwillingness to go along, the public doesn't see Congress as the problem. "The thing that high gas prices has done is make people mad at the oil companies, and not mad at environmentalists for protecting places like the Arctic Refuge," the Sierra Club's Athan Manuel told McClatchy.

And the fact that these same oil companies would be the only ones benefitting from ANWR drilling isn't exactly a selling point, so Bush pushes BS about gas prices.

But do the math. Oil is at $135 a barrel. $0.75 is about half a percent of that. You know what half a percent off a gallon of gas would be? Pretty much nothing. And, since the cost of crude oil is only part of the price of gas, the savings are even less. Costs of refining, distributing, marketing, etc. are pretty much fixed. Drilling in ANWR would do zero to reduce the price at the pump. Bush, not surprising, is spouting complete BS.

Despite the fact that the DoE found no benefit for consumers in their report, GOP congress critters see it as a validation of their hankering for ANWR oil. "I'm coming away from it saying that this is yet another an indicator that opening ANWR is important to this country and to our energy future," said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

McClatchy reports, "Opening the wildlife refuge is the centerpiece of recently unveiled House and Senate Republican energy plans, which focus on increasing domestic oil production in the face of record oil prices that, this week, exceeded $135 a barrel."

Clearly, House and Senate Republicans don't give a crap about you, any more than Bush does. All this would do would give six oil companies another decade of what amounts to busy work. It would accomplish nearly nothing and barely make a dent in our foreign oil consumption.

On the bright side, the Republican energy plans are dead in the water. Bush's dream of drilling in ANWR is almost certain to be a dream denied. A corporate give away won't solve our problem. Real energy solutions lie elsewhere.

Union of Concerned Scientists:

Not only would drilling in ANWR produce a small return, but there are in fact viable alternatives to this country's energy needs. In its call for a comprehensive national energy discussion, a Boston Globe editorial of February 21, 2001 framed the issue nicely: "If the goal [of a national energy policy] is truly to reduce US dependence on foreign oil and not simply squeeze every drop of profit from the nation's resources, then a debate on conservation, research into alternative fuels, and clean energy technologies is crucial."

UCS lists fuel-efficiency -- especially in SUVs and light trucks -- alternative fuels, and hybrids as all having a larger impact than drilling in the refuge. As I've pointed out before, Bush talks about this stuff a lot, but never gets around to doing any of it.

ANWR isn't the answer and a lack of oil isn't the problem. The problem is that Bush and the GOP complain a lot, but never do anything that would have any real effect.


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