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Our current energy woes have once again focused attention on America’s dependence on overseas sources of oil, particularly from price-fixing cartels like OPEC.
Common sense tells us that if we have the capability, we should produce more oil here at home. We do it better, cleaner, and more efficiently than other countries - many of which give little consideration to responsible environmental stewardship.
A combination of excessive regulation and political pressure from extreme environmental special interest groups, however, has caused a steep drop in domestic production of oil. While gasoline prices remain high, energy bills soar, and California suffers from rolling blackouts, U.S. oil production has dropped by 17 percent since 1992. The number of working oil rigs has fallen from 532 to 133 over the past decade.
On February 26, Sen. Frank Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced legislation to enhance America's energy security. The bill contains some flawed provisions - such as tax credits for so-called "renewables" and "green" energy - that harken back to the failed policies of the Carter era. However, it addresses the critical issue of increasing our domestic supplies of petroleum, for example by opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to environmentally sensitive exploration and production.
ANWR is a remote 19-million acre area above the Arctic Circle in the northeast corner of Alaska. Of these 19 million acres, 9.5 are designated as a wildlife area with strict prohibitions against development. Eight million acres are a wilderness area with even stricter limits. The remaining 1.5 million acres, according to the US Geological Survey (USGS), could contain as much as 16 billion barrels of oil - enough oil to replace all Saudi Arabian imports for 30 years.
Some politicians and extreme special interest groups are determined to deny Americans the ability to use this important resource, thereby holding the U.S. economy hostage to foreign interests and the whims of price-fixing oil cartels like OPEC.
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has pledged to block any legislation that would open up ANWR. Extremist groups like the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council are preparing high-dollar lobbying campaigns to influence Congressional opinion.
Despite claims that opening up ANWR would devastate the region, the current level of American technology allows the exploration and production of oil to take place with little or no environmental harm, disruption of wildlife, or damage to this cherished ecosystem.
Oil from ANWR may not reach US markets for several years - this makes it all the more imperative to open up the area to production now, rather than foster an artificial dependence of foreign oil. If the anti-consumer extremists get their way, Americans may see more frequent and dramatic surges in gas and energy prices in the coming years.