Legislation authorizing drilling for oil in the Alaska Natural Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) will top the Senate calendar when Congress returns from its Easter vacation on April 15. The Republican-controlled House passed its version of a national energy plan in August; drilling in ANWR is a top energy priority of the White House.

Opponents of opening the refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain to drilling scored two important victories during Easter week that they hope will provide ammunition with which to block opening the ANWR to drilling for oil.

The first was the release of 11,000 pages of documents showing the close relationship between energy conglomerates and Vice President Richard Cheney in developing President Bush’s energy program. (Story page 4)

The second came with the release of a report by U.S. Geological Survey biologists saying the region’s wildlife are especially vulnerable to the kinds of disturbances that drilling will bring.

Although drilling proponents often say there are 16 billion barrels of oil under the refuge’s coastal plain, the U.S. Geological Service says the amount is more like 3.2 billion barrels. The National Resources Defense Council website says this small amount of oil would come at an “enormous, and irreversible, cost” to the many animals that live in the refuge.

Opponents of drilling point to Prudhoe Bay, with its 1,500 miles of roads and pipelines, 1,400 producing wells and three jetports – and more than 60 contaminated waste sites – for a sense of what big oil’s heavy machinery would do to the refuge.

In their analysis of the legislation currently being debated in the Senate, Public Citizen says several provisions would contribute to the nation’s energy security, safeguard the environment and give consumers a break. “Unfortunately,” the statement continues, “the sweeping energy bill … mirrors many of the misguided energy policies that were announced last year in the Bush administration’s energy plan and adopted by the Republican-controlled House last August.”

These policies include further deregulation of energy markets and erosion consumer protections by piling tax breaks and direct subsidies on energy corporations to promote fossil fuels and nuclear power.

On March 29 the Bush administration pointed to the report’s conclusions that risks to wildlife could be reduced by restricting and closely managing oil exploration and production. Still the report is likely to provide new ammunition to those vowing to block efforts in Congress to allow oil companies into the refuge.

The report is based on 12 years of research into wildlife activities and the ecology of the Arctic refuge’s 1.5 million-acre coastal plain. Kenneth Whitten, a retired Alaska state biologist who participated in writing the report, told reporters there is ““There’s intense pressure within the Department of Interior to come up with findings of no impact.”

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com


Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries