Under the guise of putting "a few facts on the table," Fox News host Sean Hannity presented a series of misleading claims to advance the Bush administration's efforts to permit oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). There is ample evidence to refute each of these "facts," but no opponent of drilling appeared on the March 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes.
During an appearance by Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, a leading supporter of ANWR drilling, Hannity suggested three such "facts": 1) that only "about 2,000 acres out of 19 million acres" of the refuge would be affected by drilling; 2) that since the caribou herd has "quadrupled" at Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, despite oil drilling there, caribou at ANWR would be similarly unaffected by drilling; and 3) that the oil gained would be "the equivalent of everything we import from Saudi Arabia" over a 30-year period. Norton explicitly agreed with Hannity's first two claims.
Regarding Hannity's first claim, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer noted on February 28 that while drilling supporters have pushed the 2,000-acre figure in an effort to minimize the potential environmental impact, "[o]pponents counter that far more area would be affected by roads and pipelines connecting drilling pads." The Los Angeles Times reported on March 30, 2002, that "the Sierra Club says a 2,000-acre footprint could still support a broad level of development," and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope noted that "one scenario that was consistent with the 2,000-acre footprint ... would sustain 53 drilling pads and 250 miles of roads and pipelines." These roads and pipelines would extend well outside the 2,000 acres that Hannity mentioned.
Hannity's attempt to minimize the impact of drilling on caribou populations is also misleading. "[T]he same predictions were made ... when we were going to drill in Prudhoe Bay, and I believe we quadrupled the herd size of the caribou," he said. But the 2002 Los Angeles Times report noted that while the Prudhoe Bay caribou's "numbers have been robust," the article cited a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) report warning that, as the Times put it, "oil development would 'most likely' restrict the area available for caribou calving, leading to impaired reproduction and calf survival for the 123,000 caribou" in ANWR. The Times also noted that "[a] further problem ... is the relative weakness of the Porcupine herd, which has been in a steady cyclical decline" and which "could reach the lowest levels ever recorded between 2005 to 2010 -- just when oil development would be getting under way." Similarly, the Anchorage Daily News reported on March 6 that "[t]he plain, which runs across most of the North Slope, slims to a relatively narrow stretch in the so-called '1002 Area,' leading some biologists to worry that oil development would have a much greater impact there on caribou and other wildlife than in the Prudhoe Bay area or the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, both further west."
Scientific estimates of the likely oil production from ANWR contradict Hannity's claim that ANWR could provide as much oil as "we import from Saudi Arabia." Hannity based his assertion on the USGS estimate of 10.4 billion barrels of oil from ANWR, but that figure includes the "entire assessment area," or large portions of ANWR that lie outside the coastal plain and contain smaller amounts of oil. Because oil from these areas is too costly to be economically viable, the proposal currently before Congress would not permit drilling in these areas. Further, unless the amount of oil the U.S. imports from Saudi Arabia decreases dramatically in the coming years -- the U.S. Department of Energy projects that the share of U.S. oil consumption that will come from imports will increase from 58 percent to 70 percent by 2025 -- ANWR would not produce nearly as much oil as the United States is likely to import from Saudi Arabia. According to the Department of Energy, drilling in ANWR would reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil by between 3 and 6 percent, whereas the United States currently imports about 9 percent of its oil from Saudi Arabia, as Media Matters for America has previously noted.
Hannity also denied co-host Alan Colmes's assertion that according to the USGS, ANWR would produce in total "less than a year's worth of recoverable oil." But Colmes's claim was accurate: According to the USGS report, the mean estimated amount of recoverable oil is in fact approximately equal to the amount of oil the United States consumes in one year. As the report notes, the "[t]echnically recoverable oil within the ANWR 1002 area [the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain targeted for drilling] (excluding State and Native areas) is estimated to be between 4.3 and 11.8 billion barrels, with a mean value of 7.7 billion barrels." According to the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Agency, the U.S. currently consumes about 20 million barrels of oil and petroleum products per day, or about 7.3 billion barrels per year.
From the March 8 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:
HANNITY: Let me get a few facts on the table. We now import 60 percent of our oil in this country, is that correct?
NORTON: That's correct.
HANNITY: We're more dependent on foreign oil than we have ever been. If we were to drill in ANWR, we would only use 0.01 percent of their total acres, about 2,000 acres out of 19 million acres, isn't that correct?
NORTON: That's correct. And that restriction would be put in place by law so that we could be sure that the footprint of development would be limited.
HANNITY: And what we're really looking at here is the frozen tundra. Isn't one of the major reasons liberals don't want us to drill in this frozen tundra is because they're concerned about the mating habits of the Porcupine caribou?
NORTON: Actually, the coastal plain is an area the caribou migrate through. That is something we would have to be very careful about, as we would regulate to make sure that the caribou are protected. But actually most of the work would take place in the wintertime. The caribou are there in the summertime.
HANNITY: Well, the same predictions were made, and correct me if I'm wrong, when we were going to drill in Prudhoe Bay, and I believe we quadrupled the herd size of the caribou, correct?
NORTON: That's right. It's a much larger herd than it was when the drilling first began in Prudhoe Bay.
HANNITY: All right. I want people to understand here. So here we have a vast wildness, empty tundra, and we have the second largest oil find in U.S. history. According to the [U.S.] Geological Society [sic: Survey], their estimate of 10.4 billion barrels, with new recovery technology, peak production, that the amount of oil that we could pull out of there, over a million barrels a day for roughly 30 years, and correct me if I'm wrong, madam secretary, that would be the equivalent of everything we import from Saudi Arabia for that period of time, right?
NORTON: Well, we have -- we produce for ourselves about 5.7 million barrels a day. This would be a million barrels a day that would be added to the domestic production. The amount we import from Saudi Arabia varies, but it at least is larger than what we import from almost any other country.
COLMES: Why does the U.S. Geological Survey say less than a year's worth of recoverable oil?
HANNITY: It's not what they said.
COLMES: That's what they said.
NORTON: That would be if you used the lowest estimate and if you used everything all at once and there was no places in the world we were getting any energy.