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Tapping Alaska’s Energy
Column by Sen. Trent Lott    Filed 10/22/05   GCN

The Senate is moving forward with plans to tap domestic oil and gas deposits in the Alaskan National Wildlife Reserve or ANWR.  Just this week, the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee agreed to authorize the issuance of oil and gas leases in a small area of ANWR, as part of the Senate’s proposed fiscal year 2006 budget.  In Katrina’s aftermath, with gasoline and diesel at $3 per gallon, I applaud and support this move.

As you know, special interest groups for years have hamstrung this plan, citing inaccurate and downright hysterical reasons, including inferences that ANWR energy production will endanger caribou populations. 

Well, we don’t have too many caribou in Mississippi, but I’m told by my friends from Alaska – where 75 percent of its residents support ANWR exploration, by the way – that there’s no reason to believe the caribou can’t coexist with mankind at ANWR.  In fact, according to recent surveys, the caribou herd near Alaska’s existing Prudhoe Bay oil field is near its highest recorded level.

In Mississippi we understand the debate.  Our state has oil and gas exploration off our coast.  Years ago some people and groups opposed that, projecting an apocalyptic impact on marine animals.  Fast forward to the present day where, as any coast angler knows, the best fishing is right off an oil or gas rig, where fish populations now abound.

History tells us that oil and gas development can coexist with a healthy environment.  It is done every day.  In fact, today’s oil and gas exploration technology is so advanced that we can tap underground energy pockets with virtually no surface footprint.  Perhaps the most compelling statistic for tapping ANWR’s vast energy resources is that out of millions of acres in this refuge, only 2,000 acres will be impacted by any development.  To illustrate technology’s advances, I’m told that if the Prudhoe Bay oil field were built today, technology would allow it to be almost 70 percent smaller.

Out of the 250,000 to 750,000 jobs ANWR is estimated to create, you can expect Mississippi to be affected, too.  After all, we have about 20,000 petroleum industry jobs in our state, and we have several Mississippi companies already doing business in Alaskan oilfields. 

I could give one rational reason after another about why it makes sense to tap ANWR, but perhaps the best reason can be found at your local fuel station, where gas and diesel prices are getting dangerously high.

Our dependence on foreign oil gets more precarious every day.  Conservation is great, and we’ve got to include this in any national energy strategy.  But it’s not enough.  Our economic and national security could depend on our ability to pump and refine domestic energy assets.

Now part of this, in my view, is that oil company profits are way too big.  I’ve personally told several oil company executives that, considering how our nation is reeling from natural disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Rita and now Wilma, this is no time for big oil profits.  I’ve candidly explained to them that if these high prices continue, the federal government will act forcefully to ensure more competitive pricing.

But, apart from the debate about our current energy market, America’s long term energy strategy and our independence from foreign oil have to include more domestic production.  After all, we’re giving foreigners about $19 million an hour for foreign oil.  Given that ANWR contains an estimated nine to 16 billion barrels of removable oil, it’s clear that America’s economic and national security must include more domestic production, and more domestic production means tapping ANWR. 

Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office)

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