Richard Greene

Why ban drilling on 1.5 million acres of Alaska coastal plains?

A herd of musk ox graze in an area of Alaska’s coastal plain known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
A herd of musk ox graze in an area of Alaska’s coastal plain known as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. AP

So, the on-again, off-again possibility of oil drilling in the Atlantic is on again. That would be a good thing.

But sometimes things happen that just do not make any common sense.

One of those things is the surprise announcement via YouTube from Air Force One that President Obama was going to put another 1.5 million acres of Alaskan coastal plains even further out of the reach of producers of our nation’s petroleum reserves.

Let’s examine what we know about balancing our mission to protect the environment with the ever-growing need for the energy required to power our economy and our daily lives.

We’ll begin with what the Department of Energy has to say about a few crucial facts of life that should guide some sound decision making.

I’ve previously reported in this space that the government’s calculations say that between now and 2040 our requirement for oil will be only about 10 percent less than what it is today.

The same Department of Energy tells us that about half the crude oil processed in U. S. refineries is imported.

That’s a lot, and almost 60 percent of that half comes from OPEC and Persian Gulf countries.

A large share of those imports come from Saudi Arabia, currently in the transition of its government, which has heretofore been friendly to us, into a new era following the death of King Abdullah.

We are reminded of the risks to our national security with that much of this vital resource under the control of foreign countries.

Certainly the president knows of these risks, so it defies common sense that he would pursue a course not to reduce those risks when one is clearly available and easily achievable.

We’ve talked a lot about the Keystone XL pipeline and how it would significantly increase our oil supplies from a very friendly country. We also would get the thousands of jobs long documented as a bonus, while in the process of freeing us from the circumstances outlined above.

Multiple Obama administration studies have cleared Keystone of any significant environmental impacts.

The largest oil field in our own country is the one at Prudhoe Bay on the tundra of Alaska’s North Slope. I’ve been there — it looks a lot like the desert plains of West Texas, only frozen. It covers less than 214,000 acres, and production there peaked in 1989.

Obviously, every year of decline in the number of barrels from Prudhoe Bay means we have to get what we need from somewhere else.

That brings us back to the question of whether it makes any common sense not to consider some small fraction of the 1.5 million acres of Alaskan coastal plains to satisfy our need for domestic oil and the increased national security that comes with it.

Beyond the totally expected and self-serving answer from environmental activists, is the entirety of that vast expanse a pristine wilderness? Really?

Those elected to serve the best interests of the state don’t see it that way.

Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the energy and national resources committee in the Senate, said, “It’s clear this administration does not care about Alaskans, and considers us a little more than a territory.”

Over in the House, Alaska Rep. Don Young characterized the proposal as “callously planned and politically motivated, spitting in our faces and telling us it’s raining outside.”

In any event, the president’s declaration comes as still another shot across the bow of the Republican-controlled Congress just a few days after declaring his desire to sit down with them and work together for the good of the country.

If you can figure out a common-sense answer to this picture, please let me know, because I can’t.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.