Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, has accomplished one goal that no other Alaskan senator, despite incredible efforts, ever achieved. Not the longest serving Alaskan senator, the legendary “Uncle Ted” Stevens; not her own father, Frank, during his time in the Senate; not the egotistical and shameless Democrat, Mike Gravel; nor Alaska’s junior senator, Dan Sullivan; nor Alaska’s only other Democratic senator, Mark Begich.
Senator Murkowski delivered what is close in Alaska to a near unanimous bi-partisan supported issue: Obtaining legislation that allows the nation’s oil companies to conduct exploratory drilling in the heretofore sacrosanct 1.5 million acre coastal plain of the Alaska National Wildlife Range, referred to by it initials (ANWR) and pronounced “An-war.”
It has been a long dispute over what may be a small resource, much smaller than Prudhoe Bay, according to the U.S. Geological Survey which estimates there might be enough petroleum product that Americans would consume in six months. Consensus estimates zero in on about 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable product.
In the meantime, wildlife biologists worry that the pipeline would interfere with the 200,000 member Porcupine Caribou herd’s historic migration route in addition to posing a threat to declining numbers of Polar bears.
Alaskans basically don’t care. They believe there’s lots oil underneath the refuge and it can be drilled in an environmentally safe manner and then fed into the existing pipeline without any problems. This also means additional revenue into the Permanent Savings Fund from which each Alaska citizen receives a check based on their length of residency, drawn on the interest from the fund.
The declining price of oil in recent years coupled with breakthroughs in technology that have placed the United States in a position of world leadership due to new extensive reserves has seen payouts decline.
Thus, Murkowski’s ability to successfully attach language to the new tax cut bill permitting exploratory drilling, even though President Obama put an overlay of wilderness designation on the refuge, was welcomed by most Alaskans.
Ever since President Carter signed the Alaska Lands legislation into law in 1980 the resource developers of the world have coveted this refuge. No matter how one dresses it, it is still a pig driven by greed There is no national need for the product, we’re awash in oil. Common sense says treat it like a Naval oil reserve, to be opened only if there is a national emergency.
Then there is an argument skillfully advanced by Carter’s Interior secretary, former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus, in a speech to the annual meeting of the Sierra Club in 1979 in San Francisco. Call it “the last best place” argument. Behind him on the dais was a large map of North America.
Andrus began talking about all the oil and gas leases off-shore of the United States. He started off Maine, went down the Atlantic coast to the Gulf of Mexico, went up the Pacific coast to Alaska, went around the Alaskan coast to the far northeast corner of Alaska. He kept saying “we can drill here; we can drill there.”
He then asked the rhetorical question: “Must we have it all? Must we explore and exploit it all?” Can’t we say that all these other areas are enough? Can’t we say there is one area left where a pristine wilderness and an entire eco-system untouched is also a national priority, a value in and of itself that transcends mere dollars?”
He sat down to a thunderous standing ovation.
Senator Murkowski delivered the answer last week. “No, Cecil, you can’t. We want it all and we’ll explore it all and exploit it all. Money trumps everything.”
How sad. Some may say it was a blessing that Andrus, who passed away last August, did not live to see this travesty.