Paul Jenkins: Opposition to ANWR exploration defies intelligence

Paul Jenkins

At some point in the distant future, anthropologists sifting through the crumbling shards of our thumb drives and iPhones will try to fathom what happened to our civilization. Even if they do not stumble upon porn or Democrats or "Expendables" movies, they will conclude we were dumber than stumps.

They would be correct. Take, for instance, our penchant for cutting off our noses to spite our faces.

The mindless fight over oil and gas exploration in the teenie-weeniest portion of the 19-million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge -- think South Carolina-size -- in the frozen boondocks of northeast Alaska is a nifty example.

Mind you, we are talking about 2,000 acres - limited by law - of the 1.5 million-acre moonscape coastal plain that legally is neither a "refuge" nor "wilderness." That fly speck in the vast refuge could contain perhaps 16 billion barrels of oil.

Forget national security. Forget energy independence. The argument now has degenerated into a fracas over whether to even study whether we can explore.

As the Interior Department cobbles up its ANWR "conservation" plan -- code for "locking it up" -- Alaska again is seeking permission to do a $50 million, three-dimensional, low-impact seismic survey of the area to finally discover what is there.

The Parnell administration's first request - asking the feds to join in a seven-year seismic program - was denied by Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. A second, more detailed exploration plan - provided for in the same federal law that established ANWR - is in the offing. The state even is offering to pay for it. It is easy to see why. The federal conservation plan draft -- surprise! -- contains no oil or gas alternative, but does include a coastal plain wilderness designation.

That Jewell can presume to forge an ANWR plan without a clue about what is there amounts to sop for environmentalists who fiercely oppose even seismic exploration, believing it a first step toward rape and pillage of the refuge. An obsequious Obama administration agrees. It is left to the rational to wonder at such a chance being squandered.

The coastal plain is designated the "1002 Area," after the section in the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 that sets it aside for oil and gas exploration -- if Congress approves -- because the region's geology screams "there's oil right here!"

At the same time the area was set aside, Congress, in keeping with a wilderness preservation policy in place since the 1950s -- Interior Secretary Fred Seaton designated the region the Arctic National Wildlife Range in 1960 -- classified 8 million acres as wilderness and another 9.5 million as wildlife refuge.

The 1002 Area contains 92,000 acres owned privately by the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp., with the subsurface rights owned by the Arctic Slope Regional Corp.

Not much is publicly known about the coastal plain's oil potential other than guesses and estimates In the mid-1980s, an oil industry consortium paid a private exploration firm to collect about 1,500 miles of two-dimensional seismic data. There is hard data from one well - Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. #1 -- drilled on Native land by BP and Chevron in 1985 and 1986. What they found is so uber-secret that even Edward Snowden is in the dark.

The Interior Department recommended 1002 Area development in 1987; Congress approved in 1995; and, then-President Bill Clinton put the kibosh on the effort. Since then, nothing.

Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Dan Sullivan says federal law requires the Interior secretary to approve an exploration plan if it meets requirements, and he says Alaska's latest does. It's right there in ANILCA. Jewell contends exploration authorization expired in the 1980s. Not so, Sullivan says.

The wrangling is far from over. More lies have been told about ANWR than about George Bush. Greenies see ANWR as a donations magnet and likely would have to invent it if it did not exist -- and they are not bashful about inventing things. Their ANWR mischaracterizations are the stuff of legends.

It is embarrassing that Ms. Jewell would even entertain the notion of a "conservation" plan without the facts. Even ANILCA's Section 1010 calls for assessment of "oil, gas, and other mineral potential on all public lands in the State of Alaska in order to expand the data base. . . ." It would seem only logical to allow Alaska to fill the noticeable gap in federal data.

Maybe in Secretary Jewell's world a little knowledge truly is a dangerous thing.

Paul Jenkins is editor of the