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Published: Thursday, 7/24/2008

Fog over ANWR

IT WAS appropriate that the plane carrying Reps. Bob Latta, Jim Jordan, and eight of their Republican congressional colleagues never got to land at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Their minds were made up before they began their "American Energy Tour," so nothing they saw on the ground in Alaska would have mattered. In fact, they could just as easily have conducted their "fact-finding" junket from their Washington offices and saved us all a little money.

Speaking to the Toledo Rotary Club after his return, Mr. Jordan, who represents Ohio's 4th District, said he didn't see any caribou, polar bears, or even "Bambi," just "the most barren desolate place with 10.4 billion barrels of oil waiting to be brought to market."

Mr. Latta, the 5th District representative, told Blade politics writer Tom Troy that the GOP delegation did see happy caribou co-existing contentedly at the airport in Deadhorse, Alaska, near the existing Prudhoe Bay oil fields.

We are not surprised that these myopic lawmakers couldn't see wildlife from a plane, in the fog. They didn't want to see them in the first place. And the oil? Government studies indicate that it may - or may not - exist in the quantity they so optimistically claim. As Inupiat native Robert Thompson noted, politicians see and hear what they want to justify their desire to drill for oil.

But leave aside the predetermined and self-fulfilling nature of this latest waste of taxpayer dollars. Forget the insult to the intelligence of the American people inherent in Mr. Jordan's "Bambi" reference. Ignore the fact that even if drilling were to begin today, not one drop of ANWR oil would reach the market for many years and the impact of that oil on gasoline prices would be negligible at best.

The other really big falsehood that's been floating around for years in connection with ANWR drilling proposals, repeated by Mr. Latta, Mr. Jordan, et al, is that drilling would impact only about 2,000 of the refuge's 1.9 million acres.

But what is meant by drilling's 2,000-acre "footprint" would actually be something quite different from the tiny red spot shown on maps of what Mr. Latta called ANWR's vast "tundra desert." What he didn't reveal is that those 2,000 acres wouldn't be all in one place. They would be made up collectively of the ground supports for dozens, maybe hundreds, of raised drilling platforms that would be scattered throughout ANWR's coastal plain. Unlike Prudhoe Bay's concentrated fields, ANWR crude is believed to be contained in many locales.

Neither does the miniscule 2,000-acre "footprint" hyped by the pro-drillers include the miles and miles of roads and pipelines that would have to be built to connect the wells to other oil facilities, nor the facilities themselves, nor the hundreds of square miles near the roads and pipelines that would be adversely affected by their presence and the traffic they carry.

If Mr. Latta, Mr. Jordan, and others want to debate opening ANWR for oil exploration and drilling, that's fine. But let that debate be open and, above all, honest. Perpetuating misinformation to play off the fears of people hit hard by the rising price of fuel and other consumer goods is unseemly, even in an election year.

In the end, drilling in ANWR isn't about inconveniencing a few caribou as these shills for the oil industry, masquerading as members of Congress, would have the public believe. It's about destroying one of this nation's most precious natural areas for little, if any, economic gain.



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