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Oil, national security and an Arctic Refuge: national security concerns--virtually ignored--are at the heart of the debate over opening a slice of Alaska's Arctic coastal plain to oil exploration and development. Here the author makes the case for a prudent approach to this vital issue.

In the debate over opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and gas exploration, one important topic has garnered scant attention: the national security implications of gaining access to the region's immense petroleum reserves.

It is particularly ironic that this should be the case in the year that marks the 10th anniversary of the supposed victory over Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the Gulf War.

Americans continue to spend--$10 billion so far--vast sums of tax dollars to enforce the "no-fly" zones over Iraq.

And America has again become complacent about energy security--an attitude it may someday come to regret.

Today, the U.S. imports nearly 61% of its oil from abroad. More than 22% of these imports--or one out of every seven barrels of oil the nation consumes--comes from the Persian Gulf.

In contrast, in 1973, when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) embargo threw America's economy into a tailspin, America only imported about 36% of its oil.

Indeed, the three-volume study Geopolitics of Energy Into the 21st Century, issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies last February, concluded the U.S. will become oil dependent upon Iran, Iraq and Libya. And because of this dependence, the potential for terrorism and war will remain high.

In wartime, that dependence would be disastrous. For example, a contemporary heavy armor division consumes more than twice as much oil each day as an entire WWII field army. As a result, the 582,000 U.S. forces operating in the Persian Gulf in 1991 consumed more oil on a daily basis than the entire 2-million-man Allied armies that liberated Europe.

In the years ahead, the emphasis on rapid deployment, heightened mobility and use of airmobile forces will only increase the need for oil.


Can ANWR oil really make a difference?

Those opposed to opening up Alaska are quick to dismiss ANWR's potential. They contend that ANWR would only yield about six months worth of oil supplies for the U.S. And they sneer at ANWR's reserves, asserting they would only contribute about 2% to America's energy supplies. Given this paltry contribution, they argue, it simply isn't worth disrupting a "pristine" wilderness.

On the surface, these arguments are compelling. The only trouble is that they also are nonsense. To reach these dismal assessments of ANWR, opponents of oil exploration have managed to exhibit statistical slights of hand that would do Harry Houdini proud.

Take, for example, the claim that ANWR would only provide about a six-month oil supply. To support that claim, opponents begin by using the lowest possible estimates of ANWR's oil resources for their calculations.

Then they chop this estimate by 40%, for reasons that remain unexplained. But that's not all. They then assume that the oil would be pumped at a rate of 19 million barrels per day (mbd), an amount equal to total U.S. consumption.

The problem with this analysis is that experts believe ANWR's oil reserves are more than three times what the drilling opponents claim.

Further, the expected production rate for ANWR would be 2 mbd, not 19 mbd. In fact, it would be impossible to produce oil from ANWR at a higher rate without seriously damaging the oil field and losing much of its precious resource.

In truth, ANWR should produce petroleum for at least 14 years, and possibly much longer.

But what about the claim that ANWR would only contribute about 2% of U.S. energy supplies? Again, some amazing statistical manipulation was employed to reach this conclusion.

The real figure is equal to about 10.5% of U.S. oil consumption. So where does the 2% calculation come from?

Simple--oil provides about 35% of the energy Americans use. Consequently, ANWR's production would equal about 3.5% of total energy use.

While this is higher than opponents claim, it's not that much higher. The rest comes from a variety of sources ranging from coal to electricity to natural gas. The trouble with this analysis is that it ignores one essential fact: oil also provides 99% of America's transportation fuel.

Moreover, there is no ready substitute for oil in this application. While the media give a lot of attention to such things as electric cars and fuel cells, none of these technologies are developed to the point where they might come into widespread use. Therefore, expressing oil consumption as a proportion of total energy use is at best misleading, at worst deceitful.

A more valid way of looking at ANWR's potential 2 mbd of oil production is in terms of the potential impact on oil import needs. Here, the story is dramatic. ANWR's potential equals combined U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait--no small step in reducing our dependence on foreign oil supplies.

Opponents say developing ANWR would ravage the pristine Alaskan wilderness and threaten endangered caribou herds. The facts say otherwise.

First, only 1.5 million acres of ANWR's 19 million total would even be subject to exploration. Further, if oil were discovered, only about 2,000 acres would actually see any drilling activity, leaving the other 18,998,000 acres untouched.

Similar claims about caribou were made three decades ago when the Prudhoe Bay oil field was being developed. As it turns out, rather than being diminished, the caribou herd located near Prudhoe Bay has flourished. That herd has reached a record 27,000 caribou--up 35% since 1997.

Ironically, the only caribou herd that has decreased in numbers is located outside the drilling area.

As former President Jimmy Carter recently put it, "Can you protect the beauty of God's work and still take care of the daily needs of people ... yes."


ANWR's production might not eliminate America's chronic oil import dependence by itself, but it would substantially reduce U.S. reliance on the Middle East.

"Our national security and foreign policies cannot be held hostage to Arab producers supported by anti-capitalist, anti-U.S. populists in Venezuela," wrote U.S. News & World Report Editor-in-Chief Mortimer B. Zuckerman. "Turmoil in Iran, aggression by Iraq or instability in Saudi Arabia could have as devastating an effect on supply and prices as it did in the 1970s.

"The ultimate wild card, obviously, is Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi despot controls 2.5 million barrels a day--another factor in the decision confronting us over drilling in Alaska."

The minor environmental disruption that might accompany oil exploration seems a small price to pay for the nation's defense. Especially in light of the alternative.

As Mark Hatfield, former senator from Oregon, once said, "I would vote for opening the Arctic rather than send Americans into battle in an unfriendly nation over oil."

So let's open ANWR now, says Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.), "before we send America's sons and daughters to the Persian Gulf" to wage another war.

MILTON R. COPULOS is president of the National Defense Council Foundation, a defense research institute located in Alexandria, Va. He served two tours of duty in Vietnam with the 25th Infantry Division between 1967 and 1969.
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Author:Copulos, Milton R.
Publication:VFW Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2001
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