Tuesday, December 13, 2005

A Deceiving Picture

In the past, I've been steadfastly opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But thanks to Gale Norton, I've seen the error of my ways:

"ANWR would supply every drop of petroleum for Florida for 29 years," she told a friendly audience at the Heritage Foundation yesterday, "New York for 34 years, Illinois for 43 years, California for 16 years or New Hampshire for 315 years."
Remarkable, isn't it? And it just keeps getting better, the more you look at it. According to my calculations, the oil from ANWR would provide enough petroleum to run Ludlow, California for 467,198 years. Why, by the time it ran out, we'd all be dead! So much for those peak-oil fanatics!

Some innumerate clod had the nerve to ask Ms. Norton how much mileage the country, taken as a whole, would get out of ANWR. Her response:
"When you look at it for the whole country, you really get somewhat of a deceiving picture," the secretary answered. She said that's "not the way this operates," and said the question "assumes that unless a source of energy is going to meet all of America's needs then it's not worth looking at."
Well said. It's true that if you allocate the oil from ANWR to the whole country, and take the most optimistic possible view of ANWR's yield, it would run out in about 18 months. But that's clearly the wrong way to look at things. It's divisive, both mathematically and politically.

Apparently, Ms. Norton had to contend with quite a bit of this sort of defeatism from members of the conservative Heritage Foundation:
[T]he questions were gently skeptical. One questioner pointed out the tepid support for ANWR from oil companies, "leading some on Wall Street to say this is more of a political issue than an energy economics issue." Another person pointed out that Norton's forecast of a million barrels a day from ANWR was "somewhat underwhelming."

Norton mustered every conceivable argument for the project. She spoke of personal sacrifice: "I've been to ANWR, shivered outside in 75-below wind chill." She invoked Hurricane Katrina: "We've put a lot of eggs in one basket" in the Gulf of Mexico. She tried the wasteland argument: "It contains no trees, deep water lakes or mountain peaks....
No deep-water lakes? Shocking. Ought not to be allowed.

It's true, as far as I know. ANWR does, however, have marshes and lagoons that comprise breeding habitat for 130 species of birds. And according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, raising fuel economy to 39 miles per gallon would make available 16 times more oil than drilling in ANWR would.

That's on the one hand. On the other, imagine how far ANWR's oil would go if you owned every drop of it. You'd have countless centuries of gasoline! You could own a fleet of Hummers, and not live long enough to make a noticeable dent in your own personal supply of oil. Isn't that sort of self-reliance and individualism precisely what the American dream is all about? Do you really want to forgo myriad lifetimes of security, comfort, and convenience in order to protect a place that doesn't even have a deep-water lake?

I think not.

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