|OIL AND ENVIRONMENT|
November 27, 1995
Margaret Warner leads a debate with Senator Frank Murkowski (R-Ak.), Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt, and lobbyists Roger Herrera of Artic Power, and Pam Miller of the Wilderness Society, over proposed oil drilling in an Alaskan Refuge.
MARGARET WARNER: The dispute is over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as ANWR, located in the northeast corner of the state of Alaska. At the center of the controversy is one piece of this 19-million-acre refuge, a 1 1/2 million acre parcel known as the Coastal Plain. Republican-led proposals in Congress would allow oil drilling in the Coastal Plain for the first time.
Here to debate the issue are Sen. Frank Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, who is chairman of the Senate Energy and National Resources Committee, Interior Sec. Bruce Babbitt, Roger Herrera of Arctic Power, a non-profit, pro-development organization representing business and community groups in Alaska. He joins us from Anchorage. And Pam Miller, Alaska Program Director of the Wilderness Society, an environmental organization.
Welcome to you all. Sen. Murkowski, why do you think the time has come to drill for oil in this area?
|Imports are up|
SEN. FRANK MURKOWSKI, (R) Alaska: Well, first of all, Prudhoe Bay has been supplying the United States with about 25 percent of its total crude oil production for the last 18 years, about 2 million barrels a day. Today, that's declined to a million and a half barrels a day. Our imports are up from the oil embargo days of 1973, where we were 34 percent dependent on imported oil to a point now where we're 50 1/2 percent dependent on imported oil.
So the reality is we have an opportunity not in a wilderness but in a refuge, because that's what the 1002 area is. The geologists tell us this is the most likely place in North America where we can find oil, and as a consequence of that, we should make sure that that oil is there, and we have a proposal which is expected to bring about $2.6 billion, 50/50 split between the Treasury and the federal government, at about $200 million to a refuge fund for parks maintenance and so forth.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me go back to just the need for the oil and how much oil. How much oil should this field produce?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well, you never know unless you find it. It's estimated at 9.2 million -- 9.2 billion barrels. Now that's a significant amount of oil.
MARGARET WARNER: That's the whole reserve?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: If the oil's there. That's as much as the United Kingdom, Norway, Oman, Qatar, other areas. It's very, very significant, and the question is, is the oil there? You won't know until you initiate exploration.
MARGARET WARNER: Sec. Babbitt.
BRUCE BABBITT, Secretary of Interior: Let's be honest about this. Alaska wants to export this oil not to the United States but to Japan. At the same time they're telling us we need it in the United States, they're lobbying for a law which will enable them to sell to Japan. The bottom line is there's a glut of oil in this world right now. There's no demand for this. Oil prices are down. They're not going up anytime soon. And the real issue is simply this. Is there room for a wildlife refuge? 90 percent of the Alaska coastline is already open to exploration.
You can go a thousand miles west from Prudhoe Bay. I'm ready to offer those leases right now. And the question is whether or not we have the capacity to say the last little fragment, the most important, the most spectacular one ought to be wildlife refuge. I've got to tell you, drilling in that particular area of that refuge where the calving takes place is like saying we're going to go drill for oil in a maternity ward. I mean, they just don't mix.
MARGARET WARNER: I want to get to the environmental argument, but first let me just ask Mr. Herrera, because I know there's been a dispute over how productive this field might be. Put it in relationship for us, would you, Mr. Herrera, how much you think this may produce compared to say what Prudhoe Bay is producing now or what total say American consumption is right now.
ROGER HERRERA, Arctic Power: Well, American consumption is approximately 18 million barrels of oil a day. Prudhoe Bay only produces an eighth of that, and Sen. Murkowski mentioned, we import 50 percent of that. The Coastal Plain, the potential there and obviously it is theoretical at this stage, is clearly able to equal the sort of output that we've had from Prudhoe Bay in the past, but it might not be as high as that, might be a little less. But it's--the perception is by geologists that look at it that it's capable of being by far the largest new oil field that we'll find in the United States for the next decade or more.
MARGARET WARNER: And what about Sec. Babbitt's point? There's plenty of other areas in Alaska that he's ready to open leases for, for the industry.
MR. HERRERA: Well, that's very generous of him, but he well knows that in the areas to the west of Prudhoe Bay the federal government since the 1940s has drilled over 200 wells and found virtually no oil. In the 80s, when the industry was allowed to go in that area, they only found geology which justified drilling of one single well. So offering geological areas which have no oil potential doesn't solve any problem at all.
MARGARET WARNER: Pam Miller, I know, of course, you're opposed to this, but where do you come down just on the issue of how much oil there is there and whether we need it?
PAM MILLER, The Wilderness Society: Well, certainly this issue is about this 90 percent of the arctic coastline that is already open to oil drilling. And there are existing fields in Prudhoe Bay that can still come on line. What we're talking about is this 5 percent of the arctic coastline that Americans want to see protected. And should we risk this critical area for what might be 200 days' worth of oil for the nation, or even less, now with the downgraded, halved estimates by the USGS--
MARGARET WARNER: U.S. Geological Survey.
MS. MILLER: U.S. Geological Survey, and the fact that oil prices are much lower than they were projected in the past. So we're talking about risking in an incredibly important area for something that we can look to energy alternatives too for much more energy over the long run.
MARGARET WARNER: Senator, how do you respond to those points?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well, first of all, the footprint is very, very manageable.
MARGARET WARNER: Describe what you mean by footprint.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: In other words, what is going to actually take place on the land if, indeed, the oil is there. Now, you've got 19 million acres in ANWR after you take out 8 1/2 million acres for the refuge, 9 million acres for the wilderness areas. You're left with a million and a half acres in the so-called 1002 area. That's not a wilderness. That's being managed, if you will, as a refuge. Congress set it aside for determination to be made.
Now industry tells us that if the oil's there, they can develop it within two to three thousand acres. Now, what's the proof of that? The proof of that is the field that we brought in seven years ago in conjunction with Prudhoe Bay called Endicott. It's the seventh largest producing field in North America today. It utilizes 56 acres. Now, that's the technology we would have. And to suggest that American technology, ingenuity can't open up this area safely is selling America short.
MARGARET WARNER: But is she right when she says that originally the thought was it would produce enough for say 200 days' worth, while now it's down to 100?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: That assumes that there's not going to be any other oil produced in the United States. Prudhoe Bay has been compared to a 600-day supply. And the Secretary's used these figures, but it's also been supplying the nation with 25 percent of the total crude oil for the last 18 years. That's what it means. You have to keep these arguments in perspective. That's a fact.
SEC. BABBITT: Well, look, it may have a 30-day supply, a 60-day supply, a 90-day supply. The real issue is whether or not the American people want to have one small fragment of the Arctic Coast as a wildlife refuge. Now, what kind of print will be in that wildlife refuge? It'll be the print of an oil field. It'll be pipelines, roads, power plants, air strips, oil and water fowl, wolves, denning bears, and caribou. They just don't mix. They've never mixed anywhere else, and there's no reason to assume that they will hear.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Tell us exactly what is it at risk, what is in this refuge now in the way of wildlife, and what will be put at risk, do you believe. Let him make his case.
SEC. BABBITT: Sen. Murkowski is going to tell you that there are few tame caribou at Prudhoe Bay. There are. I've been there. But among those oil derricks at Prudhoe Bay, there are no wolves, there are no grizzly bears, there are no denning polar bears, you no longer see the migratory swans--
MARGARET WARNER: You're talking about--
SEC. BABBITT: -- and snow geese.
MARGARET WARNER: -- the place that's already been developed.
SEC. BABBITT: Yeah. There are a few tame caribou around it. They've put them forward like they were advertising a zoo. It's an oil field with a few tame caribou. This refuge is an entirely different site. It is a spectacle which exists nowhere else on this planet. A couple of hundred thousand caribou, musk oxen, wolves, grizzly bears, polar bears, and birds, all interacting in a pageant the likes of which simply doesn't exist anywhere else. And they're saying it's not important, we can sacrifice the last of it, and our kids will be -- they'll never have a chance to see it.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Herrera, is that what you're saying, that basically this is expendable?
MR. HERRERA: No, that's absolutely nonsense. To suggest that Prudhoe Bay is inhabited by tame caribou, as the Secretary says, is baloney, and the fact of the matter is actually in Prudhoe Bay that there are 24 resident bears that live there year-round. His facts are wrong. And if you go westwards in Arctic Alaska, you find larger caribou herds, more mammals, orders of magnitude more numbers of birds and species of birds than you do in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
If the Secretary really wants to preserve some of Arctic Alaska, he should go West into the Arctic National--into the national petroleum reserve, which is misnamed because it doesn't have any petroleum. I mean, his rhetoric about Prudhoe Bay is absolutely wrong. What Prudhoe Bay has done is produce oil safely for 18 years without harming the wildlife or the environment.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. But let me get away from Prudhoe Bay and talk about ANWR, this area that's now in dispute. Pam Miller, describe for us what you think the environmental risk is. Do you think all these animals will die? Will they leave? What is the actual risk?
MS. MILLER: What we have here is a unique place in the world. It is a wilderness ecosystem, it's functioning in its natural way as it has for millennia. It has the most important on-shore denning area for polar bears. It has this tremendous aggregation of caribou that have their young there, raise their young there, and it has tundra swans that come from as far as Chesapeake Bay, all in this narrow, diverse area with the spectacular Brooks Range behind it. And to say that you can have an industrial complex in the biological heart of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and maintain for our children this unique refuge is just not true.
There will be the miles of roads and pipelines that the secretary has described. There have been declines in the caribou herd at Prudhoe Bay. There is disturbance of the roads and the pipelines seen by the caribou, and you simply cannot impose this kind of a complex. I've worked on the wildlife refuge as a biologist, and I've spent a lot of time in Prudhoe Bay, and I've seen for myself what you have in the oil fields and in the spectacular wilderness.
MARGARET WARNER: So, Sen. Murkowski, what do you think will happen to the environment, to the wildlife there if, as you describe, this footprint goes in there of oil development?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well, these are smoke screen arguments. The reality of the experience we've had in Prudhoe Bay with the caribou can be transferred to the area of ANWR, because we've seen, if you will, the caribou growth in the Prudhoe Bay area, there were three to four thousand animals at one time prior to the development of the oil fields, today there are nearly twenty-four thousand. Now, the herds decline depending on the predators, depending on the winters, and depending on overgrazing. We have about 34 herds in Alaska. We have about 990,000 caribou.
Now, to suggest that -- we have a picture I might show the Secretary -- he's seen it time and time again -- but there is a compatibility unless you run 'em down in snow machines and start shooting them. What we're going to do, if we're lucky enough to find oil in ANWR, is to develop the area, making a very small footprint. We're not going to drill during the calving area. I might add the calves come in in an area over 8 million acres. What's difficult here to communicate is the size of these areas. I might add the polar bears do not den in ANWR. The polar bears den at sea. Very few of them come in at ANWR. This is fact.
SEC. BABBITT: You are wrong. Yes, they do den in ANWR.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: No, they don't. They factually don't. And I'd be happy to provide you with the documentation of that. So, you know, when we look at the animals and how we're going to manage the footprint, we're going to use technology, we're going to use science, and we can do it safely, because we've already done it. And the footprint is going to be so small in this area that's not, that's not a wilderness but is in a refuge that we can do it safely. We're going to be importing our oil in foreign vessels if we don't develop our own domestic supplies, and exporting our jobs, and we look at the balance of payments, what has happened, that's the price of imported oil. And the national energy security interests, we had talked about that.
SEC. BABBITT: Senator, you've already acknowledged that you're trying to export this oil not to the United States but to Japan.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well, let's talk about that.
SEC. BABBITT: To Japan.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Because you're absolutely wrong, and your President is signing a bill this week to allow, if you will, the export of Alaskan oil.
SEC. BABBITT: But you're arguing for that, are you not?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: And you don't understand the issue, and you're not being honest with the American people here, because you know very well the oil that's going to be exported is the excess oil that currently goes through the Panama Canal, and is no longer economic. Now, I'd be happy to talk to you about that.
SEC. BABBITT: That's exactly the point. That's exactly the point. We have plenty of oil.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: That's excess, that's excess to the West Coast.
SEC. BABBITT: It certainly is excess.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: But it's declining, isn't it, from Alaska.
SEC. BABBITT: No, that is--
SEN. MURKOWSKI: It's gone down from two million barrels to a million and a half. And what are we doing? We're importing more oil. We're exporting jobs. This is an environmental smoke screen that you have signed onto sometime ago, and it's big business.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me let the Secretary answer here. Let me ask you this, Mr. Secretary. Are you saying you just don't believe there's any way that this kind of development can coexist with the wildlife? Is it possible Sen. Murkowski's right, you could, or is it just not doable?
|Protecting our national heritage|
SEC. BABBITT: This reminds me of the proposals to put dams in the Grand Canyon. They were about energy. And they said there was nothing wrong with the two dams in the Grand Canyon. Then a few years later, they were saying, well, let's drill for geothermal energy in Yellowstone. And as the person in charge of the National Wildlife Refuge System and the National Park System, I'm saying, we need to protect some small pieces of our national heritage for the future, and the bottom line is they want to send this oil to Japan.
There's no national emergency on this. It won't go to deficit reduction. Mr. Herrera says they drilled some wells going West, toward the Chechnya Sea. It's a thousand miles out there. They haven't looked at it seriously. And there are lots of options. There simply isn't any compelling need for sort of destroying the last bits of our heritage, particularly on this shore in Alaska.
MARGARET WARNER: All right.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: This area is the size of the state of South Carolina. It's not a small area. It's a huge area.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me let Pam Miller get in here.
MS. MILLER: This area was established in 1960 by President Eisenhower for its wildlife and wilderness values. The American people have said time and time again that they want to see this area protected. Recent polls--
SEN. MURKOWSKI: They set aside the 1002 area. It's exempt.
MS. MILLER: -- by CNN have found 70 percent of the American people are supportive of protecting this wildlife refuge and don't want to see oil drilling even if the revenues were used for deficit reduction, and so what we're talking about is can we as a nation protect this wildlife refuge? There are plenty of other places to go to for oil, but for wilderness, we need this special place.
MARGARET WARNER: Before we close, let me raise one other issue that I know has come up in all of this. And Mr. Herrera, I'll let you or have you come in on this one. There is a group of Indians that live in the area, as I understand it, that are very dependent on the caribou and the migration of caribou, the Gwichen Indians. How do you think they will be affected if there is this development?
MR. HERRERA: I don't think they'll be affected at all. And the reason I can say that with a degree of confidence is that 20 years ago the Inupiat Eskimos that actually live on the Coastal Plain, it's their backyard, had the same fear of oil development, and over that 20 years, they've realized that their traditional lifestyle and subsistence hunting has not been adversely affected by the developments on the North Slope. The Gwichen today have the same fear.
The problem is they will not go and see what has happened on the North Slope to gain the experience that the Inupiat have had over the last 20 years and consequently, they're opposed to it. The reality will be that when this is opened, because otherwise we'll be importing so much oil that we will go bankrupt in this country, when this area is opened to careful development, nothing will adversely happen to the Gwichen Indians.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you respond to that?
SEC. BABBITT: This is "Roger Knows Best." The fact is that this Gwichen group has co-evolved and existed for 10,000 years, interacting with this --
MR. HERRERA: So have the Inupiat --
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Herrera, let him speak, if you would. Thanks.
SEC. BABBITT: It seems to me we ought to listen very carefully to the experience of a thousand generations. The people who've lived on that landscape have protected that herd, have made their entire subsistence from it. And this notion that a couple of oil companies know best I think has to be treated with a certain kind of skepticism.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: Well, Roger, the Eskimo people, they don't have running water, they have honey buckets. And you know what a honey bucket is, and so do I. You and I and the environmental groups in Washington and New York, are not concerned with the opportunity for the people in the area, the 7500 Eskimos of the Arctic that want a future, they want jobs, they want a tax base. And what's happened to the Gwichens--and there are only about 500 Gwichens in Alaska--and you know it as well as I do -- America's environmental community has funded this effort, they've put the fear of God in these people.
The Sierra Club funds -- there are full page ads in The New York Times, and the Gwichen people are fearful of the unknown, and the unknown is the caribou. And the caribou is something they're very dependent on, but there's no reason to think that we can't work with the Gwichens in an international management capability, using your department and the Canadians to ensure that that herd, which is 165,000 animals, and our Alaska Gwichens only take three to four hundred, and the Canadian Gwichens take over 4,000, can't be maintained in harmony with an alternative for these people to live with the conveniences others have and have jobs if they want them. That's what this issue is all about.
SEC. BABBITT: That amounts to saying that Sen. Murkowski knows what's best for the Gwichens.
SEN. MURKOWSKI: No. I don't, and you don't either, but the people that are there do.
MARGARET WARNER: Gentlemen, all right, before we close, let's look at the political prospects. Sec. Babbitt, the President has said that however many times this appears in the reconciliation bill he's going to veto this budget bill if this provision bill is in it. How certain are you that if everything else he doesn't like is out of the bill he would still veto just on this provision?
SEC. BABBITT: Margaret, I think the President has spoken very clearly on multiple occasions about his determination to veto any bill that has this drilling proposal in it.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. And if that's true, Sen. Murkowski, can you override?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: I think the President has an obligation to look at the national security interests of this nation as we become more dependent on the Mideast. The President has an obligation to look to the largest creation of jobs in any one identifiable field. The President has the obligation to use science and technology to develop domestic resources in U.S. jobs.
MARGARET WARNER: But if he doesn't, can you override?
SEN. MURKOWSKI: If he doesn't, I would anticipate it would be back in the reconciliation package, and he would have to address it again.
MARGARET WARNER: Okay. Thank you very much. We'll have to leave it there.