Two congressmen who were part of a congressional trip to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge over the weekend said yesterday they saw a barren tundra with no perceivable wildlife, confirming their impressions that it's ripe for drilling for oil.
"I didn't see one caribou, one polar bear. I didn't see Bambi," U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Urbana, Ohio) said yesterday to the Toledo Rotary Club. "What I did see was the most barren, desolate place with 10.4 billion barrels of oil waiting to be brought to market."
The all-Republican "American Energy Tour" trip took 10 congressmen - most of them freshmen - to Alaska's North Slope for one day.
A planned face-to-face meeting with the residents of the native village of Kaktovik on Sunday afternoon fell through because fog prevented a plane landing. Instead they flew over the proposed drilling region.
U.S. Reps. Bob Latta (R., Bowling Green) and Mr. Jordan were among the delegation.
They said they were disappointed they didn't get to land in Kaktovik.
Instead, they visited three drilling installations west of the wildlife refuge centered on Prudhoe Bay and saw the proposed drilling area in the refuge through the windows of a small plane.
Efforts by The Blade to be included in the trip were rejected by the office of House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), who said there wasn't enough room on the aircraft.
The White House sponsored the trip. Four seats were made available for journalists and cameramen of Fox and CNN.
Mr. Latta contacted The Blade by telephone from Fairbanks, Alaska, prior to the group's flight back yesterday morning. Mr. Jordan flew back Sunday night in time to speak at a Toledo Rotary Club luncheon.
"It's what they call a tundra desert," Mr. Latta said. "You don't see any trees."
He said the ANWR is known as "a major birding area but we must have been a month late on the birding."
Both said they saw caribou in the vicinity of the existing oilfields. Mr. Latta said someone had to shoo the caribou off the runway at Deadhorse, Alaska, so the single-propeller airplane he was in could take off.
Mr. Latta said he believes the drilling could be done with little impact on the environment, and that it would help maintain oil production from Alaska, which he said supplies 17 percent of America's consumption.
Republicans recently have been increasing pressure in Congress to drill in the untouched, 19-million-acre ANWR to help increase the oil supply and reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
Democrats ridiculed the trip as political posturing, saying oil companies already have leases on 68 million acres of land in the United States that they are not using.
They contend that pumping oil from the refuge at most might lower the price of gasoline by a few cents per gallon, while failing to address the world's emphasis on environmentally destructive fossil fuels.
Two Alaskan opponents of drilling said the delegation didn't get close enough to the ground or spend enough time in Alaska to form an opinion about the wildlife refuge.
"It's hard to see the wildlife from that elevation," Pam Miller, Arctic program director for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center in Fairbanks, said yesterday.
She said the proposed drilling area is home to polar bears and caribou, not to mention smaller plants and animals, such as lichen and ducks, that would not be visible from an airplane.
Robert Thompson, an Inupiat native of Alaska who leads rafting expeditions from Kaktovik, said the politicians see and hear what they want so they can justify their opinions about drilling for oil.
"Maybe they were at a high altitude. When you get down on the ground there's all kinds of wildlife," Mr. Thompson said. "It's pretty well established there's wildlife here. It's a wildlife refuge."
During the Rotary Club meeting, two members of the audience questioned Mr. Jordan about his stand.
Dr. Raiz Chaudhary said Saudi Arabia and Iraq alone have far more oil than is in ANWR.
"That's not the answer to our oil needs. Oil has to come from present sources that are available," Dr. Chaudhary said.
Dr. Richard Ruppert said that without a comprehensive energy policy, allowing drilling in ANWR would simply put off the emphasis on alternative sources of energy for another 10 years.
"Let's get a policy established and then let's go ahead and drill," Dr. Ruppert said.
The proposed lease would cover an area of 1.5 million acres but create a "footprint" of only 2,000 acres, advocates of drilling in the refuge claim.
Both Mr. Latta and Mr. Jordan are up for re-election Nov. 4. Their Democratic opponents could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Chris Redfern, the Ohio Democratic Party chairman, called proposals to drill in ANWR "a short-term solution to a long-term crisis."
"We need to increase domestic oil production in areas that are already in production," Mr. Redfern said.
Mr. Latta said the group heard from federal employees of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Geological Survey, as well as the BP and Conoco oil companies.
The group also visited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, on Friday.
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