Wash. Times joined chorus of ANWR misinformers

››› ››› RAPHAEL SCHWEBER-KOREN

A Washington Times editorial that advocated drilling in the Alaskan Arctic National Wildlife Refuge exaggerated estimates of the refuge's oil reserves and the amount of daily oil production that could be achieved through exploration there.

A May 4 Washington Times editorial that advocated drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) exaggerated estimates of ANWR's oil reserves and the amount of daily oil production that could be achieved through exploration there. The editorial, citing former Interior Secretary Gale Norton's 2003 congressional testimony, asserted that "the United States Geological Survey 'estimates that [the northern coastal plain of ... ANWR] contains a mean expected value of 10.4 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil,' whose daily output of 'nearly 1.4 million barrels' would be 'larger than the current daily onshore oil production of any of the lower 48 states.' " In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted many times before, the 10.4 billion-barrel figure comes from a 1998 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) assessment of the entire ANWR coastal plain area and the immediately adjacent Alaskan-controlled ocean waters, which extend three miles off the coast. However, within the area assessed by the USGS, oil production is barred only in the smaller "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 1002 coastal plain area," which is controlled by the federal government. By contrast, active exploration wells existed after 1987 in state-controlled waters, and the state currently accepts bids for oil and gas leases in that area. The USGS found the smaller, federally controlled region's average likely amount of "technically recoverable" oil to be 7.7 billion barrels -- not 10.4 billion barrels.

In addition, while the Times claimed that ANWR would produce "nearly 1.4 million barrels" per day, the 2006 Annual Energy Outlook (AEO) report released in February by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) concluded that, if ANWR had been opened for development in 2005, daily production would have peaked at 780,000 barrels per day in 2024, falling to 650,000 barrels per day by 2030.

The editorial also chastised "environmentalists and Florida politicians" for their "success in preventing American energy companies from exploring for oil and gas between Florida and Cuba." However, the editorial failed to include the Bush administration in the list, even though, as The Washington Post reported on May 30, 2002, the administration proposed drilling off the Florida coast in 2001 but backed off due to opposition from the president's brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush:

Last year, [then-Interior Secretary Gail] Norton floated a proposal -- developed in the Clinton administration -- to open 6 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas leasing. But after Gov. Bush objected, she scaled back the plan to forestall drilling within 100 miles of the Florida coast. The exception was the Destin Dome area off Pensacola, where Chevron, Conoco and Murphy Oil were in litigation over leases approved 16 years ago. Under yesterday's deal, the companies will relinquish seven of their nine leases and suspend the other two until at least 2012.

The Washington Post article also reported that according to "several environmental activists ... President Bush had been far less eager to block drilling in states where his brother isn't governor."

The May 4 Washington Times editorial titled "Communists, oil and the Florida coast":

America's energy policies have been so counterproductive during the past 20 years that the time has now arrived when the communist governments of China and Cuba can jointly teach us a lesson about supply and demand. For years, the United States has refused to explore for oil in the 90-mile-wide waters separating Cuba and Florida. Now, Cuba is enlisting help from China, India and other interested parties in an effort to explore for oil in Cuban waters 50 miles off the Florida coast.

As you fill up your tank this week with gasoline costing more than $3 per gallon, contemplate how U.S. petroleum supply and demand have changed over the last 20 years. U.S. crude oil output declined by 43 percent (nearly 4 million barrels per day), falling from 9 million barrels in 1985 to 5.2 million in 2005. Meanwhile, U.S. demand for petroleum products increased by 31 percent (5 million barrels per day), rising from 15.7 million barrels in 1985 to 20.7 million in 2005. As a result, net imports of petroleum products soared by nearly 200 percent (more than 8 million barrels per day), skyrocketing from 4.3 million barrels in 1985 to 12.4 million in 2005.

One important reason why U.S. crude oil production has fallen so precipitously since 1985 is America's willful refusal to explore for oil where reserves certainly exist. As then-Interior Secretary Gale Norton testified before Congress in 2003, the United States Geological Survey "estimates that [the northern coastal plain of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)] contains a mean expected value of 10.4 billion barrels of technically recoverable oil," whose daily output of "nearly 1.4 million barrels" would be "larger than the current daily onshore oil production of any of the lower 48 states." ANWR alone would have compensated for nearly 40 percent of the 1985-2005 daily decline in U.S. crude oil output. Adding its estimated reserves to total U.S. proved oil reserves (22 billion barrels) would increase the latter by nearly 50 percent.

Even ANWR's huge reserves pale compared to oil located throughout the waters of the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). The Minerals Management Service (MMS) of the Department of Interior estimates that the OCS contains 76 billion barrels of oil in yet-to-be-discovered fields. That's three and a half times U.S. proved oil reserves. Offshore oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico alone are estimated to be more than 40 billion barrels, much of it precluded from exploration by official U.S. policy. Compared to U.S. proved natural-gas reserves of 189 trillion cubic feet, the MMS estimates that the Gulf of Mexico alone holds more than 200 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered technically recoverable natural gas.

While celebrating their success in preventing American energy companies from exploring for oil and gas between Florida and Cuba, environmentalists and Florida politicians ought to contemplate China's egregious environmental record as they look with horror at Chinese drilling rigs soon to be dispersed throughout Cuban waters less than 50 miles from the Florida coast.

Posted In
Environment & Science, Drilling, Energy
Network/Outlet
The Washington Times
Stories/Interests
Propaganda/Noise Machine
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