ANWR: You Get What You Poll For

WASHINGTON, DC, February 1, 2005 (ENS) - Two national polls released last month show that a majority of those surveyed believe Congress should open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for oil and gas exploration, development and production. But another public opinion survey conducted in December shows the majority of those polled would leave the refuge in its pristine condition and rely on conservation and renewables.

A survey conducted by Republican pollster Frank Luntz found that opening ANWR was supported by 53 percent of the American voters polled. Sixty-seven percent supported drilling there after hearing arguments presented from that point of view.

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The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Beaufort Sea in August 2000. (Satellite photo courtesy NASA) )
The Luntz Research Group survey was conducted on behalf of Arctic Power, an Alaskan organization that defines itself on its website as "a non-profit citizens organization formed for the sole purpose of advocating for the development of ANWR."

Last week, Harris Interactive published a separate poll finding that 53 percent at least somewhat support "energy reform that would allow companies to drill for oil in such areas as the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to decrease our reliance on foreign oil," which is the proposal President George W. Bush and Republicans in Congress desire.

Those who feel strongly on the issue are about evenly divided. Twenty-six percent of those polled strongly support drilling. Thirty percent of those polled strongly oppose drilling.

Of the Republicans polled by Harris, 80 percent support drilling in the refuge, while 20 percent are opposed.

Of the Democrats polled by Harris 41 percent support drilling, while 59 percent oppose it.

Harris Interactive did not state who paid for the poll, which examined various domestic issues, including drilling in ANWR, in advance of President George W. Bush's State of the Union address, set for Wednesday.

When a recent Harris Poll asked U.S. adults about energy reform as a potential agenda item for the new Congress to consider, a strong majority (91%) said they would support reform to emphasize more conservation by consumers and to encourage more innovation by energy producers for alternative sources for energy, with over half (52%) strongly supporting this idea.

These findings are distinct from a Zogby poll released December 21, 2004 funded by the Wilderness Society and other conservation groups. That poll of likely voters found those surveyed oppose opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil drilling by a 55 percent to 38 percent margin.

Their opposition is stronger, 59 percent to 25 percent, to a proposed "backdoor maneuver" that would use the annual Congressional budget process to let the oil industry into the refuge.

Eighty percent of those questioned told Zogby interviewers that conservation, improved fuel efficiency and the development of renewable energy alternatives are the best ways to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Only 17 percent said that more drilling on America's public lands is the solution.

The House Committee on Resources will consider energy legislation that includes ANWR exploration and production next week.

House Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo, a California Republican, prefers to believe the Luntz and Harris polls. "The American people are calling on Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation that will increase domestic supplies," he said in a statement today.

Pombo

Congressman Richard Pombo supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. (Photo courtesy Office of the Congressman) )
"The vast majority of Americans understand that our dependence on Middle East sources of oil is a direct threat to our national security," said Pombo. "They support the deployment of 21st century technology here at home, in energy-rich places like ANWR, to lessen the pressure of our dependence by becoming more self-sufficient."

The mean estimate of recoverable oil in ANWR is 10.3 billion barrels, says Pombo. And because ANWR oil would have to stay in the U.S. by law, that represents more than $500 billion of investment at today's prices.

He cites Energy Information Agency figures showing that, ANWR production could increase domestic production by 20 percent by the year 2025. "This stands in stark contrast to opponents' assertions that ANWR only has 'a six month supply' of oil, a figure they derive by embracing the lowest estimates of recoverable oil and assuming an unrealistic circumstance in which the U.S. would rely on ANWR for all of its needs," Pombo maintains.

Arctic Power says that the vast majority of Inupiaq native people who live in and near ANWR support onshore oil development on the coastal plain. The group cites a City of Kaktovik poll funded by the state of Alaska that polled 68 of the community's residents. About 90 percent of those polled subsist by hunting and fishing.

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Two of the children of Kaktovik, the only community in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Photo courtesy Arctic Power) )
When asked if the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be open to oil and gas exploration, 43 percent of Kaktovik residents polled strongly agree, and another 35 percent agree. Ten percent are neutral, while nine percent are opposed or strongly opposed to the drilling.

But two Inupiaq spokespeople touring the United States with the anti-drilling documentary "Oil on Ice" say drilling in the refuge would be a disaster.

George Edwardson, a Inupiaq geologist, mining and petroleum engineer since 1968, lives in Barrow, Alaska about 350 miles west of the refuge. A father of seven who hunts to feed his family, he is a member of the Restoration Advisory Board which cleans up abandoned military sites on the North Slope.

His estimate of the amount of recoverable oil in the refuge is far below even the six months supply to which Pombo refers.

Edwardson says only 42 percent of the six billion barrels that are estimated to be in the refuge can be extracted. "You might be able to get 2.4 billion barrels, so their six months is reduced down to a couple of months," he told ENS.

Edwardson says the amount of oil and gas in the refuge will not pay for the development of the resource and construction of the pipeline to take it to market. Instead, he believes that the real motivation of the petroleum developers is to do directional drilling, horizontally out to sea.

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A sectioni of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline which carries oil to market in the Lower 48 states. (Photo courtesy Arctic Power) )
ANWR lies between Canada's Mackenzie Delta to the east where offshore drilling has been producing oil for years, and to the west, Prudhoe Bay where oil production is now declining after a boom period. Edwardson says the oil developers believe oil lies offshore of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and they will do whatever they can to get at it.

"Their second motive can only be to directional drill offshore," he said. "And once they can find it out there, then my country can use what it always does, the law of supply and demand."

"When you use the law of supply and demand, environmental regulations are not important, people's lives are not important. When you do that, then I am gone."

The environmental impact statement (EIS) for drilling in the refuge is not reassuring to Edwardson.

"When you look at their EIS they guarantee us a major oil spill," he says. " And when it comes to cleanup capabilities, they can clean what's visual, the heavy stuff they can clean if there's no storms. If there's ice, they lose that capability, if there's a storm, they don't have that capability."

Inupiaq Mary Margaret Brower lives in Kaktovik, the only town within the refuge, and she is concerned about a big oil spill.

A 34 year old mother of two, Brower says her people have lived and hunted off the land for centuries. "This oil development really touches my heart," she told ENS. "I'm concerned for my culture, my livelihood. I feel if they come in we're going to lose all that."

"Barrow and Prudhow already have the modern society," Brower said. "Prudhoe Bay, it's a big oil industry, and I don't want that in my back yard. That's where I live, that's where I subsist off. We eat the whales, we eat the seals, we eat the fish. So it just really touches my heart that this is a possibility. I feel that it's going to ruin my culture in the long run."

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960, and is the largest wildlife refuge in the United States, encompassing 19.2 million acres, about the size of South Carolina.

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Grizzly bear and cub near Kaktovik (Photo courtesy U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) )
Animals of the refuge include the 160,000 member Porcupine caribou herd, 180 species of birds from four continents, 44 species of mammals including wolves, wolverine, polar and grizzly bears, muskoxen, foxes, and over 36 species of coastal and freshwater fish.

Two endangered species are found on the refuge - the peregrine falcon and the bowhead whale.

Although most of ANWR was designated as wilderness in 1980, the area along the coastal plain was set aside so that the oil and gas reserves beneath the tundra could be studied.

Back in Washington, Senator Pete Domenici, a New Mexico Republican who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has expressed his support for opening ANWR to oil development.

"This year will be a dynamic year for the energy committee," said Domenici. "We are going to make a push to develop our vast oil resources in the Arctic Refuge in a way that leaves the environment pristine while stabilizing oil prices and enhancing our energy independence."