Political Hay

Here’s the Drill

As the House takes up ANWR once more, and homeowners face skyrocketing heating bills, will our elected reps again run like frightened caribou?

By and 12.7.05

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This week the House of Representatives will again take up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Heating bills are poised to skyrocket in much of the country this month, and homeowners will be looking to Congress for answers. What can we expect from our elected representatives? Will they take seriously the need to increase the supply of energy?

In November the Senate passed 51-48 a budget reconciliation bill that authorized energy exploration in ANWR. However, ANWR was stalled in the House where minority leader Nancy Pelosi clamped down on her fellow Democrats, preventing crossovers by 20 to 30 Democrats from districts with a heavy pro-ANWR union presence. To make matters worse, 24 Republicans signed a letter to Richard Pombo, chairman of the House Resources Committee, urging that ANWR drilling not be in the budget reconciliation bill.

The list of Republican signers is top-heavy with RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). Ironically, many are also from high-fuel-cost cold weather states -- Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Many of these Northeastern and Midwestern representatives will now go hat in hand to the taxpayers for home-heating subsidies this winter.

That's begging for a lot. According to the research firm Global Insight, U.S. consumers could face a home-heating price increase that will average 48 percent this year. The reason is basic economics. In recent years more power companies have switched from coal to cleaner burning natural gas to generate electricity, thereby driving up demand. Natural gas is already the fuel most commonly used to heat homes. But while demand is increasing, supply is not, which means higher prices: Natural gas prices have already nearly doubled from $2 per thousand cubic feet to roughly $4 in only a few years.

The pain is not limited to homeowners. Despite all the recent good news about economic growth, the American Chemistry Council estimates that since 2000 roughly 100,000 jobs and $50 billion have been lost because of rising natural gas prices. Between 2000 and 2002 the plastics industry lost 150,000 jobs and $14.6 billion in economic activity. The American fertilizer industry, also hard hit, lost over one-third of its capacity since 2002.

Drilling in ANWR could produce about 150 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year. That's not a huge amount, but it's a start. Drilling in ANWR is good for the economy in other ways as well. Estimates of the number of new jobs it will create range from 250,000 to 735,000.

But all this is lost on the GOP holdouts, captive to environmentalist propaganda like this from the Natural Resources Defense Council:

Oil produced from the Arctic Refuge would come at enormous, and irreversible, cost. The refuge is among the world's last true wildernesses, and it is one of the largest sanctuaries for Arctic animals. Traversed by a dozen rivers and framed by jagged peaks, this spectacular wilderness is a vital birthing ground for polar bears, grizzlies, Arctic wolves, caribou and the endangered shaggy musk ox, a mammoth-like survivor of the last Ice Age.

One only has to go 60 miles west of ANWR, to Prudhoe Bay, to see that drilling can co-exist with wildlife. Drilling facilities and gravel roads cover only two percent of the 250,000-acre Prudhoe Bay field. And the caribou thrive. Their numbers have increased from 3,000 in the 1970s when drilling there began to about 32,000 in 2002.

Of course, to secure adequate future energy supplies the U.S. must encourage more energy exploration and drilling. ANWR is just a start. There is over a 50 years supply of natural gas in the Outer Continental Shelf, which will require more drilling off Florida and Gulf Coast. But unfortunately when the House added the authorization for drilling in ANWR it stripped out of the bill authorization to drill in the Outer Continental Shelf.

If increasing supply is a serious solution to rising natural gas prices, then this Congress is not very serious at all.

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About the Author

David Hogberg is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.  Follow David Hogberg on Twitter.

About the Author

James Dellinger is a research analyst at the Capital Research Center.