For the past two decades, federal legislation allowing oil and gas exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge has been stymied. Now, it is part of federal tax reform that Congress is likely to approve.
Allowing new oil and gas leases would greatly help Washington refineries, workers and state and local economies. Crude supplies from Alaska’s North Slope are declining, and refiners have looked elsewhere for replacement stocks, i.e., oil-by-rail from North Dakota.
ANWR is not the picturesque landscape you might imagine with towering snow-capped peaks and lush green forests. It is 19 million acres of frozen desert that is larger than the states of Massachusetts, New Jersey, Hawaii, Connecticut and Delaware combined.
Although the 1.5 million acres in ARWR, called the coastal plain, were set aside for future leasing in 1980, drilling would occur on less than 2,000 acres. That’s like a small dot on an 8-by-10-inch sheet of paper.
“The U.S. Geological Survey estimates this sliver of land contains at least 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil and 8.6 trillion of natural gas, and those estimates are probably conservative,” The Wall Street Journal editorialized. By comparison, Alaska’s second-biggest oil field, Kuparuk, holds about 2.5 billion barrels.
Exploration and construction would take place during the winter, over roads built on sheets of ice. When the ice melts in the spring, the roads disappear. Drilling and production have strong and long-standing environmental safeguards.
The crude, which is 12,000 feet below ground, would be extracted by a widely used technique known as horizontal drilling. Production wells would be spaced roughly a dozen feet apart yet would reach out for miles in different directions underground. The oil would then be piped to Prudhoe Bay and sent 800 miles south via the existing TransAlaska Pipeline.
Washington’s five refineries provide nearly 4 percent of our nation’s processing capacity. With our state accounting for 2 percent of national petroleum consumption, in-state refineries produce quantities more than sufficient for Washington’s needs. Those refineries process nearly 600,000 barrels of crude oil per day resulting in roughly 11 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.
Alaska crude comes to our refineries in double-hulled ocean-going tankers. Since the Exxon Valdez incident in Prince William Sound in March 1989, state-of-the art redundant marine safeguards are aboard ships. Tanker crews have extensive safety and response training.
If federal leases in wildlife refuges seem unorthodox, they really are not. The National Audubon Society earned more than $25 million (2001 figure) in royalties by allowing oil and natural gas production in Louisiana’s Rainey Wildlife Refuge and Michigan’s Baker Sanctuary.
Coincidentally, the Rainey refuge (26,000 acres) is the winter habitat for snow geese migrating from Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while the Baker Sanctuary, a 900-acre wetland, provides hundreds of Sandhill cranes with a critical nesting area.
In fact, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey commissioned in 2001 reported 77 of 567 wildlife refuges in 22 states had oil and gas activities on their lands.
If drilling and exploration are safely done in existing wildlife refuges, why would it be an “environmental apocalypse” if a tiny portion of ANWR were opened to exploration? It would not.
Opening ANWR for leasing helps our state’s refineries and their workers to survive. They create jobs and opportunities for others as well.
“With a multiplier of 10.16, the total impact of the refineries was 20,350 jobs. Similarly, the refinery activities resulted in $507,275 of state personal income for every direct job, or a total statewide of $1,016,071,600 in personal income,” the Research Council concluded in 2010.
That is good for our state and country.
Don Brunell, retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, is a business analyst, writer, and columnist. He lives in Vancouver and can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.