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September 6, 2005

Alaskan Oil a Key to Keeping Our Freedoms


by Jon Basil Utley

As gas prices continue to soar, both reflecting and promoting bad foreign and domestic policies, it's time to recognize that there is another way.

  • We don't have to be imperialists, bombing and attacking oil-rich nations.
  • We don't need to invade and occupy much of the Muslim world.
  • We don't need to fear the consequent terrorism in our cities.
  • We don't have to lose our freedoms to a police state.
  • We don't have to make ourselves feared and hated.
  • We don't have to wreck our national budget.
  • We don't need to shiver in the winters to come.
  • We can drill and produce oil and gas in America.

Ten days hiking and boating in Alaska gives one a credible idea of the incredible abundance of animal and marine life. Hikers are mainly warned how to handle bears, while fishermen bring up incredibly large fish. The lush ocean is now successfully protected while the land near the coasts is equally flush with animal life.

A few statistics:

  • Alaska equals some 20 percent of the whole American land mass; it and Canada's west coast and inlets offer more miles of pristine coastline than most of all the rest of America. It abounds in animal and marine life.
  • Alaska's western half hardly even has roads, its streams nurture millions of salmon, and it has only 27,000 human inhabitants, mostly Eskimos who now get oil royalties and welfare. The whole state has less than a million people.
  • Half the state is national forests or parks. Bears are so plentiful in America that even New Jersey has over a thousand of them. Over a thousand moose populate just the Anchorage area, out of which 300 were killed by traffic last year and over 300 died of starvation in one winter.
  • Even the cute sea otters now swim around in abundance. They were once hunted nearly to extinction by Russians who traded their warm pelts to Chinese for tea. Alaska's southern waters offer some of the richest marine life in the whole world.
  • At ANWR in the north, oil drilling would "use" one tenth of 1 percent of the whole preserve, which hardly has any human life during winters. The area only has three hours of daylight in the winter and no vegetation grows over three feet high. There is hardly any life. Nearby Prudhoe Bay's pipeline has not had a destructive effect on caribou (also called reindeer in Europe the ones Santa Claus uses). In fact, the herds have grown [.pdf] since the pipeline was completed.
  • With slant drilling, the Department of the Interior estimates that 12,500 acres would be directly impacted by a web of roads, drill pads, processing facilities, and an airport. For perspective, Dulles Airport in Washington, D.C., used up 13,000 acres. The ANWR reserve contains 19 million acres; it's about the size of South Carolina. Its reserves are estimated at a minimum 10 billion barrels up to some 16 billion barrels. In today's world, even a billion-barrel oil field is considered extraordinary. ANWR puts Alaska on a par with Saudi fields.

Last year, I was in northern Russia at Vorkuta, the same latitude as ANWR. I never saw such desolate land it reminded me of the novel The Land God Gave to Cain. This is not the picture of pretty Rockies or abundant animal life shown by environmental extremists. It is some of the most desolate, miserable land on the face of the earth. So let's drill it. It's well past time for environmental extremists to get off America's back and stop fighting a project to benefit all Americans.

Another major point: One reads how the new oil supply would not be a large percentage of total American consumption, that it would only equal a year's U.S. consumption. In fact, all the oil would not come out in one year, but rather over 20 or 30 years. This ignores one of the most basic rules of economics that prices (and profits) are all determined by the marginal use. That means that it is the last 10 percent of production or sales that controls the price in the world market (OPEC and futures trading only affect short-term prices). Even reducing U.S. imports by 10 percent would strongly affect world prices. Add to this the new technology to exploit an abundance of natural gas methane hydrates discovered under the U.S. and Canadian permafrost and offshore, and we could supply our needs for natural gas.

Animal life is very widely protected and abundant in Alaska. Even if it were true that drilling ANWR would impact some Arctic animals, they have the whole rest of the state. What about the rest of us? Continued wars for oil in the Middle East will cost us incredibly in money and our own freedoms in an endless battle to fight off terrorists seeking vengeance on Americans. There is an alternative.


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  • Jon Basil Utley is associate publisher of The American Conservative and Robert A. Taft Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. A former correspondent for Knight Ridder in South America, Utley has written for the Harvard Business Review on foreign nationalism and was for 17 years a commentator on the Voice of America. He is director of Americans Against World Empire.

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