The battle over the ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) in Alaska has been raging for years, but rising gas prices have stirred the pot even further among drilling supporters and opponents. The Republican Party, lead by President Bush, is touting drilling the ANWR as the answer to the country's energy problems, which is cause for great concern among environmentalists – mainly because more Americans, frustrated by a dismal economy, are starting to believe it.
With oil prices tapping out at $115 a barrel, Americans are struggling to make ends meet and are desperate for relief. Republicans and Democrats have both stepped up to solve the crisis with dueling plans – increasing new oil supply versus decreasing oil demand, respectively. But one fact remains constant in the back and forth debate – even if the U.S. opened the ANWR to oil development, the demand for foreign fuel imports would remain significant. How significant? The U.S. currently imports 70% of its oil, and after drilling the ANWR, it would still have to import two thirds to meet current demands.
"What we are hearing from the White House and from the Republicans is the same song, same dance: drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge," said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat. "We know we can't drill our way out of this problem." – ENN
Republicans' proposals to drill the Arctic Refuge have been rejected before, and the debate has been a contentious issue for every president since Jimmy Carter (who left office in 1981). The ANWR sits east of the North Slope's Prudhoe Bay, North America's largest oil field, and currently yields about 17% of domestic oil production. The ANWR is also home to over 45 species of land and marine mammals and is the most critical onshore habitat for America's dying polar bears.
Perhaps the most unique feature of the refuge is that large-scale ecological and evolutionary processes continue here, free of human control or manipulation. A prominent reason for establishment of the Arctic Refuge was the fact that this single protected area encompasses an unbroken continuum of arctic and subarctic ecosystems. Here, one can traverse the boreal forest of the Porcupine River plateau, wander north up the rolling tiaga uplands, cross the rugged, glacier-capped Brooks Range, and follow any number of rivers across the tundra coastal plain to the lagoons, estuaries, and barrier islands of the Beaufort Seas coast, all without encountering an artifact of civilization. – U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
Support is mixed among Alaskan tribes and residents, and business leaders and environmentalists stand firmly planted on opposite sides of the battlefield. Everyday Americans are caught in middle, torn between their dire need for fuel price relief and their hesitancy to believe that drilling in Alaska will solve the problem. By current estimates, the destruction of this untouched haven would yield about 10 years worth of oil in total and no significant drop in gas prices because of the steadfast need for foreign oil to appease current fuel demands. With the three current presidential hopefuls touting their respective gas plans and voters weighing their options, it's almost baffling how little is being done by the U.S. government to curb domestic consumption of oil. While three things are certain in any American's life – death, taxes and the debate over the ANWR – let's hope any recent pleas for drilling will be met with the same vetoes, amendments and filibusters their predecessors encountered.