Risk to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge intensifies following terrorist attacksWashington, D.C., USA: In the wake of the September terrorist attacks on the USA, several members of the US Senate have opportunistically tried to advance energy legislation that would allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Pro-drilling senators threatened to amend crucial defense and national security legislation, but backed down after most senators objected to their tactic. Supporters of drilling in the refuge, however, made it clear that they would force a debate on an energy bill before the end of the year.
The refuge is the "crown jewel" of the US system of national refuges, a vast and remote wilderness in northeastern Alaska included among the WWF Global 200 Ecoregions.* The WWF-US board directors have responded to the senator’s tactics by issuing a statement rebuking the actions of the drilling supporters:
"As a nation, we hold only 3 percent of the world's reserves of oil, yet we consume almost 25 percent of the world's daily production. As long as this is the case, we will remain dependent on world oil markets, and we will pay the world price for oil, whether it is produced domestically or abroad. The safest and fastest way to increase our energy security is to improve the energy efficiency of our cars, trucks, homes, factories, and offices, and to increase the role of renewable non-petroleum sources of energy in our economy."
"We urge the Senate to consider carefully the long-term implications of these energy policy issues as part of an orderly process of the consideration of energy matters, rather than in midst of the present crisis."
Provoked by the Senate’s reluctance to speed up the energy bill process, President Bush publicly urged the Senate to consider the issue as a matter of national security. "The less dependent we are on foreign sources of crude oil, the more secure we are at home," Bush said in October. "We've spent a lot of time talking about homeland security and an integral piece of homeland security is energy independence."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle responded with a carefully crafted compromise proposal; he would bring arctic drilling legislation up for debate if the supporters of drilling can secure the 60 votes necessary to authorize development. If the votes aren't there, and he doesn't believe they are, he will present a far less controversial energy bill. This bill would include authorization for construction of a natural gas pipeline from Alaska's North Slope to midwestern states. Currently, trillions of cubic feet of gas from the North Slope is either flared at the well site or reinjected into the ground because low prices have made it uneconomical to move the product to markets. When gas prices started climbing earlier this year, representatives from three companies which produce North Slope oil - Exxon, BP, and Phillips Petroleum — appeared before Congress to express their support for a gas pipeline from Alaska.
"If we need to tap into the resources of Alaska," Daschle says, "let's do it with this [gas] pipeline." Senator Daschle has repeatedly argued against opening the wildlife refuge to petroleum development, calling it "the most sensitive part of Alaska." He cites U.S. government estimates that oil from the refuge would not flow to markets for at least ten years.
Alaska's senior Senator Ted Stevens, an outspoken proponent of drilling for oil in the wildlife refuge, acknowledged that there are not enough votes in the Senate to open the area at this time. "It will take another national tragedy of some kind to convince the public and thus the U.S. Senate of the need to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," Stevens said one month to the day after the September 11th terrorist attacks.
It is not certain when the Senate will debate an energy bill or vote on the fate of the Arctic Refuge. What is certain: If this issue is not resolved this year, proponents of drilling will continue to press for consideration when Congress returns to Washington in January.
For further information contact:
Randall D. Snodgrass
Director, Government Relations
World Wildlife Fund-US
Ph: + 001 (202) 778-9680 Email Randy.Snodgrass@wwfus.org
* More information about the WWF Global 200 Ecoregions programme is available at: www.nationalgeographic.com/wildworld.