ANWR: To Drill or Not to Drill? There is No Question, by Peyton Knight

As the debate over whether to drill for oil in a tiny, desolate portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) grows – however improbably – even more contentious, it is important to remember that honest debate must be properly framed.

Opponents of ANWR drilling claim we are faced with a difficult decision.  We can either drill for oil in ANWR or protect the Arctic Refuge.  That’s it.  Do you want oil?  Or do you want wildlife?  You can’t have both.

This is a false dichotomy.  We can have both.  And judging by our nation’s ever increasing reliance on foreign oil from politically unstable portions of the globe, we must have both.

Trying to explain to a tie-dyed-in-the-wool “green” environmentalist that drilling for oil in ANWR won’t harm the environment is like trying to convince a 5-year-old that there is no Santa Claus.  The evidence may be clear, but he just won’t believe it.

In 1999, the Clinton Administration’s energy department confirmed that oil exploration and drilling in ANWR can be done in an environmentally friendly manner.1  Under the current proposal before the House and Senate, drilling would be confined to an infinitesimal 0.01% of ANWR’s total acreage.2  Lateral drilling technology permits extractions of oil horizontally from the point of entry on the surface.3 

Roads and airstrips needed to transport equipment in and out of ANWR don’t pose a threat to the environment.  They would be constructed of ice: When the ice melts in the warmer spring months, the roads and airstrips vanish.4

The environmental movement has made the ANWR issue the equivalent of a “poster child,” using it in appeals for fundraising and political support. 

The environmental movement has clamored for years for greater reliance on solar and wind power, with the result that these sources of energy now supply a miniscule 0.19 percent of America’s total energy.5  They are not, at this time, a substitute for oil.

ANWR represents a real test for Republican leadership.  Early returns are not good.  First, a handful of anti-drilling Republicans in the House effectively stopped ANWR from being part of the House/Senate budget reconciliation bill, legislation that would have had immunity from a Senate filibuster.  Republican leaders abandoned this vehicle, and are now attaching ANWR to the 2006 defense spending bill.  Though the House recently approved its version of the defense bill with ANWR attached, Senate approval is much less certain, and filibuster rules apply.

In the meantime, Americans continue to thirst for affordable energy.  The U.S. currently imports roughly 60 percent of the oil it consumes.6 and oil imports account for one-third of the U.S. trade deficit.7 

The U.S. Department of Energy notes on its website:

“Our dependence upon oil, especially foreign oil, affects our economy and our national energy security.  Today, over half of the oil we use is imported… Most of the world’s oil reserves are concentrated in the Middle East, and over two-thirds are controlled by OPEC members.  Oil price shocks and price manipulation by OPEC have cost our economy dearly — about $7 trillion from 1979 to 2000… and each major price shock was followed by a recession. With growing U.S. imports and increasing world dependence on OPEC oil, future price shocks are possible…”8

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there could be as many as 11.8 billion barrels of oil beneath ANWR’s coastal plain.9  This is no insignificant amount, and recovering and processing this oil would create many new jobs; anywhere from low estimates in the tens of thousands to a high estimate of over two million. 10

Given our growing dependence on foreign oil and the predicted spike in heating costs this winter, it would be plainly irresponsible for Congress to cower to green caterwauling and put America’s energy security on hold-where it’s been for decades.  The only thing harmed by drilling in ANWR is green self-esteem, not the environment.

Peyton Knight is director of environmental and regulatory affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research. 


1. “Energy Footprints in the ANWR,” The Week That Was, a publication of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, April 13, 2002, downloaded from on December 16, 2005.

2. Peyton Knight, “Small Group of House Republicans Derails ANWR Drilling,” Ten Second Response, a publication of The National Center for Public Policy Research, November 10, 2005, available at on December 19, 2005.

3. Sabrina Eaton, “Alaska Preserve Hangs in the Balance,” The Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 14, 2005, downloaded from on December 16, 2005.

4. Arctic Power, “How two decades of growing technology have shrunk the environmental impacts of development,” downloaded from on December 16, 2005.

5. Tom Bethell, “A Civil War Between the Greens,” The American Spectator, June, 2005, appearing on The American Spectator webpage at, as downloaded December 16, 2005.

6. Senator Ted Stevens, “Stevens Opposes Cantwell To Keep ANWR In The Budget,” Press Release, November 2, 2005, downloaded from on December 16, 2005.

7. Senator Richard Lugar, “Opening Statement for Hearing on the High Costs of Oil Dependence,” November 16, 2005, downloaded from on December 16, 2005.

8. “Strengthen Energy National Security,” undated U.S. Department of Energy document, downloaded from on December 16, 2005.

9. U.S. Geological Survey, “Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998, Including Economic Analysis,” as downloaded from the U.S. Geological Survey webpage at on December 16, 2005.

10. For arguments favoring lower job-creation estimates, see a U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Minority (Democratic) press release, “Energy Conference Update #21 (Fake Jobs vs. Real Jobs),” October 22, 2003, available online at as of December 16, 2005.  For more information on the 2.2 million estimate, see The Economic Impact of ANWR Resources (2003), published by the National Defense Council Foundation, Alexandria, Virginia.  A summary of the report’s findings by state was available online at as of December 16, 2005.

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.