Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Geo-Greens Against ANWR
Bless Tom Friedman of the New York Times for being willing to challenge conventional wisdom on the Middle East, China policy, and lots of other things. Unfortunately, his discussion of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on St. Patrick's Day rested on some pretty shaky assumptions, even if his source was Philip Verleger, Jr. As I understand the so-called Geo-Green argument against drilling, it boils down to, "Don't do it because we might find a lot of oil there."

Let's address a few of the errant assumptions:
1. Oil from ANWR will benefit China and Japan more than the US, because it is in the wrong place. Fortunately, the oil market is global, and putting a million barrels a day of new oil into it would dampen prices globally, whether the actual barrels go to San Francisco or Shanghai. However, if you consider the declining production profile of the Alaskan North Slope (see yesterday's posting) and the time lags involved in producing any discovery in ANWR, you have to see ANWR as backfill for the North Slope, rather than as incremental supply for the West Coast. In other words, it would likely create a longer, gentler plateau for overall Alaskan production, rather than a big spike in production. That means the beneficiaries would be the same folks that receive Alaskan North Slope oil, now.

2. Finding oil in ANWR would discourage conservation and promote more greenhouse emissions. Perhaps so, but no more than finding oil anywhere else. ANWR will not by itself bring back $20 oil, and it probably wouldn't be profitable at $20. Conservation and additional supply are not competitive; we need them both.

3. The US will still be vulnerable to Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Certainly, but our energy strategy should focus on actively managing that vulnerability, not fantasizing about eliminating it anytime soon. A combination of supply enhancement and demand restraint could keep our import needs near the current level for decades, but they aren't going to drive them to zero without a technology breakthrough or a Depression.

Even though I support drilling in ANWR, I recognize that there are valid reasons not to. But in order for them to be considered on a level field, the alternatives should all include practical proposals for coming up with the equivalent amount of energy in new supply or new savings elsewhere. Simply saying "no" is a guarantee that our import dependency will keep growing.

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