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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Oil Drilling in Alaskan Refuge Fails to Deter Energy Crisis

Author: Jon White ’03

Later this month or early next month, the fate of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will be on the floor of the U.S. Senate. The opening of the Refuge for drilling is among the provisions of the Bush administration's energy bill, already endorsed by the House of Representatives during the summer of 2001. The administration's energy bill also calls for federal money for the development of new nuclear power plants. These energy policies merit the attention of students here at Middlebury, and all Americans, as they are a threat to our national security and strength.

First, the administration's proposal to revive the nuclear power industry jeopardizes the safety of Americans by creating more, not less, potential terrorist targets on our soil. Even before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, nuclear energy and the disposal of nuclear waste presented a variety of environmental, safety, health and ethical questions. Now, more than ever before, the industry is a national security liability, and it makes little sense to further subsidize this problematic energy source.

A concert of oil executives, the president and vice president and a number of Republican senators, would like Americans to believe that their proposals to drill for oil on Alaska's arctic coastal plain will reduce our country's dependence on oil from the Middle East. In light of such theories, they are using Sept. 11 as justification for rushing drilling legislation through the Senate. Unfortunately, given America's unchecked consumption of oil, drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will neither dent nor reduce the growing demand for oil in this country.

The United States Geological Survey has determined that the Arctic Refuge contains about enough reserves to satisfy six months worth of U.S. oil demand. The oil from the Refuge, however, will not be available for commercial consumption for at least another decade, and in the elapsed 10 years U.S. consumption of oil will no doubt increase, making a six-month supply prediction based on current consumption levels extraordinarily generous. Moreover, in the 10 years prior to the Arctic Refuge oil becoming available for use, our nation will continue to import oil from abroad. Finally, once the oil in the Arctic Refuge is depleted, we will again be forced to look either overseas or in other pristine wilderness areas for oil. Drilling for oil in Alaska will not make us less dependent on oil from unstable regions of the globe, nor will it stimulate our own domestic economy. In the short term, jobs will be created in a remote corner of Alaska in construction and technical fields, but once the oil supply in the Refuge has vanished, individuals employed in these sectors will be forced to look for new jobs. Those who will most profit are oil executives, and their close allies —President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The financial revenues they will reap will come at a significant cost to a realm known as "America's Serengeti" as well as to the environmental movement itself.

A greater issue beyond economics persists in this debate: the need to address America's unbalanced consumption of oil. The Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the many environmental organizations working to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, has noted that the most environmentally sound and sensible method of curtailing America's gross consumption of oil is through mandating higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards and through implementing programs that promote renewable energy sources. Adopting a more innovative energy plan will allow America to reduce its reliance on oil from unstable regions of the globe, while simultaneously addressing this nation's need to be a participant, not a spectator, in the international dialogue on global warming. Sadly, the Bush administration's energy bill offers nothing in the way of subsidies for research or promotion of alternative energy. The administration would like us all to believe that our excessive rate of oil consumption can be sustained despite harming the welfare of our wilderness, of the planet and of global security.

Perhaps the fundamental issue at stake in the pending Senate debate is the sheer perversity in using the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 as reason to destroy our nation's natural heritage. The Bush administration and oil companies fail to recognize the intrinsic relationship between America's natural splendor and our national identity and pride. They need look no farther than "America the Beautiful" to find a wholesale endorsement of the blessing nature as afforded our country: "For purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plains..."

Opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an attack by our government on America's strength. Ninety-five percent of Alaska's Arctic coast is already open to oil drilling; why should the remaining five percent be destroyed for short-term profits for British Petroleum and Dick Cheney? The beauty of the Arctic Refuge, combined with that of our other wild lands, emerges in our national anthems and it moves millions of Americans each year who come to these areas for renewal and peace. We are also set apart from other nations by our incredible natural wealth. To destroy the mightiest of America's wild lands, a land teeming with hundreds of thousands of caribou, golden eagles, snow owls, grizzlies and polar bears, will not make us a stronger nation or people. Can a nation that devalues its own beauty for the sake of profit be cherished or defended?

Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will undermine our natural heritage, which for many Americans is a touchstone of this nation's greatness and a measure of its strength. We will be a sadder, more divided nation if the proposals to exploit this last five percent of Alaska's arctic coast are carried out and we will have left nothing for future generations to admire but our profound lack of wisdom. In light of Sept. 11, the need to protect the arctic National Wildlife Refuge has grown all the more urgent, while politicians seem to have grown only more shortsighted, greedy and sick in justifying its destruction.

Students at Middlebury need to contact their senators, both from Vermont and their home states and inform them that our national security and strength depend on their opposition to both drilling in Alaska's Arctic Wildlife Refuge and to the construction of new nuclear power plants.