The 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must continue to be excluded from wilderness designation. There is no need for additional wilderness designations in ANWR, given 92 percent of the refuge is already closed to development. Alaskans strongly oppose a wilderness designation on ANWR's coastal plain. In fact, polls over the years have shown Alaskans consistently and overwhelmingly support oil exploration in the 1002 area. Every Alaska governor, Legislature, elected congressional representative and senator from Alaska have supported responsible development.
The opening of ANWR to exploration has everything to do with Alaska's right to develop its natural resources. With Prudhoe Bay oil reserves in decline, it is essential that new areas be opened for oil exploration and development. Throughput in the trans-Alaska pipeline is declining at an alarming rate. It is operating at less than one-third of its original capacity. Government and industry experts calculate huge amounts of oil lie beneath the coastal plain, enough to serve America's energy needs for 30 years and more. As much as 16 billion barrels of oil and 18 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are estimated to lie within the 1002 area of ANWR. Oil exploration in ANWR would take place on just 2,000 acres of its 1.5 million-acre coastal plain, which amounts to a tiny fraction of Alaska's protected lands. The land is a tiny sliver of the huge refuge.
Congress excluded the 1002 area from ANWR's large wilderness block in a compromise struck under Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. The compromise doubled the size of the refuge and designated 8 million acres wilderness. Congress also mandated a study of the 1002 area's environment and petroleum resources. In 1987, the U.S. Department of the Interior concluded oil development would have minimal impact on wildlife and recommended Congress open the coastal plain to development.
The essential needs of Alaska's working families all across this vast and beautiful state depend on the responsible development of our natural resources. For us, environmentally responsible development in a tiny portion of the refuge means jobs and the opportunity to improve our schools and other public services. The opening of ANWR to exploration would be the best economic news to hit this state in many years. It would mean thousands of jobs for Fairbanks workers and billions of dollars in revenue for the state of Alaska. ANWR would create high paying jobs for Fairbanks to earn and enjoy a livable wage. A federal wilderness designation over the 1002 area would forever place onshore oil and gas development off-limits, and ultimately hurt the Fairbanks and Alaska economy.
Green activists have shut down most of Alaska's large job-producing industries, harassed many of the rest and blocked oil exploration on the coastal plain of ANWR. Their goals are to withdraw more lands in Alaska, prevent timbering in Alaska, prevent mining in Alaska, prevent oil and gas development in Alaska. However the greatest challenge that Alaska faces is a lack of urgency. Alaskans need to wake up to what the extremists are doing to us. Alaska already contains 58 million acres of federal wilderness, an area larger than the combined size of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. Alaska accounts for 53 percent federal wilderness areas in the U.S. Environmentally conscious growth is one thing, and is highly desirable, but extremist obstruction is something else entirely.
Prudhoe Bay oil is in decline and it is essential that new areas be opened for exploration and development. Opening ANWR to oil and gas exploration will benefit the state through increased revenues, and the citizens of Fairbanks with jobs and income. Alaskans need to work in the oil patch and develop our most important natural resource laying thousands of feet below the tundra's surface.
Jim Plaquet is an 40-year member of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 302. He lives in Fairbanks.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com