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Friday, June 10, 2005

Why I Oppose Drilling in ANWR

After getting into two more online arguments in the last two days about energy policy and drilling in ANWR, and having to repeat information I've given out time after time (after time after time after time), I decided that I should put it all together for everyone to see. This way I can merely point to my blog and tell people to read it before they want to discuss ANWR with me.

Here is a summary of the arguments for and against drilling. Thankfully, it also debunks the claims from both sides. Both sides, it seems, are bursting at the seams with fertilizer.

I will admit from the beginning that I'm not that interested in the ecology of oil production. We need oil for our world to work properly, and that's simply the fact. It has to come from somewhere, and it is generally better if we produce it ourselves than if we import it. Unless and until someone perfects a substitute for oil in our modern world, we are just going to have to deal with the environmental fall-out, both at the production site and at the usage site. This doesn't mean we should simply say, "Screw it, let someone else clean up the mess." No, it means that we should recognize that our way of life is ultimately destructive and do everything we can to limit that destruction. I, for one, am not about to go back to the days of the Old West just to save a few barrels of oil a year.

If you approach this issue from any other perspective, you are being hypocritical about it.

Here's the point of opposition: the amount of oil that will be produced from ANWR is too little to be worth the damage it will cause. Further, it is not necessary for us to develop ANWR at all. It is a better choice, a wiser choice, to save it for future development.

Hold on to your hats, it's time to throw some numbers at you.

Currently, the United States consumes approximately 20 million barrels of oil per day. Of this, we import just under twelve million barrels of oil. This is the level of "dependence on foreign oil" that everyone likes to talk about and sound like they're special.

Here's a link to a list of the top countries of origin for American oil imports. If you look at it, you'll notice something no one ever speaks about - we aren't that dependent on the Persian Gulf. Of the top five importers into the United States, only one - Saudi Arabia - is in the Middle East. Depending on the exact day, Canada, Mexico, or Venezuela will send more oil than Saudi Arabia. Some days, all three do.

If you look at the next five - again, only one is a Persian Gulf country. Exactly the same pattern holds for the next five. Strange. I thought the Arabs were holding us hostage over oil prices. It's a funny way to make us dependent on them when the top three Persian Gulf importing countries contribute less than twelve percent of our oil imports. Exactly who are we trying to declare independence from? The Canadians and Mexicans? If so, then why the Hell did we ratify NAFTA?

The most optimistic analysis puts the average maximum daily output from ANWR at about two million barrels of oil per day. At that rate of production, the site should produce for at least 25 years, and probably closer to 35 years. Okay, so it looks like ANWR will produce enough oil for us to tell the Saudis to shove off. If construction started today, that level of production would not be reached for eight to ten years.

Moreover, we don't want to quit buying oil from the Saudis. If you look at this chart, and do a little math, you will find out that the US accounts for slightly more than sixteen percent of all Saudi Arabian oil. That means we are more important to their economic well-being than they are to ours. To put it differently, if all oil between them and us were cut off, it would hurt them more than us. Who is truly dependent?

This means that we have a tool to use in international politics. Understand that Saudi Arabia cannot produce enough food to feed itself. When the price of our oil goes up, the price of their food goes up. Guess which one can more easily be done without?

Here's the next reason why we don't need to drill in ANWR - we have Canada and we have Mexico. Canada actually holds the second largest amount of oil in the world - and that's only counting oil that is both known and able to be recovered with current technology. If you count what is known and will not be accessible for several years, Canada is actually way over Saudi Arabia in oil. How much? 175.6 trillion barrels. The associated natural gas - which is liquid due to low temperatures - totals more than all the natural gas known to exist in the rest of the world.

Drilling in ANWR now looks about like spitting on a fish before you throw it in the ocean. It may make you feel better, for some odd reason, but there's just no point in it.

Here's the real kicker - oil from Edmonton is cheaper than oil from the North Slope - which is cheaper than oil from ANWR would be. Even if production prices are exactly equal - which they aren't - Edmonton is a thousand miles closer. That means the cost of getting it from there to here is cheaper.

So instead of begging to the Saudi princes, President Bush should beat a fast track to Edmonton - perhaps take in a hockey game, eh? - and look at ways to work on an international partnership with Canada. ANWR will never replace all of the Saudi oil flowing into the US - Alberta can - and should. Let's double Canadian oil output and see how desperate the Saudis become when we tack on a $5 per barrel surcharge on oil that comes from non-democratically governed countries that deny equal status and voting rights to women.

Let the oil in ANWR stay where it is. If it is ever needed - like in 200 years when Alberta runs out of oil - then it will actually be worth the price of the environmental degredation that comes with oil production.

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