Ten years ago this week, the U.S. Senate debated whether to open a small section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and natural gas production. Under the terms of the ANWR amendment, a maximum of 2,000 acres in the nonwilderness portion of the refuge (less than 0.01% of the whole) would have been opened to surface development. But the amendment was defeated, and we are paying the price today.
Because oil might take up to 10 years to reach market, we were told that the nonwilderness portion of ANWR could not be part of the solution to our energy challenges. Nearly every senator who spoke against the amendment in 2002 listed this as a factor in his or her decision.
Now, 10 years later, it is plain to see that the argument was not just wrong, but backward. Instead of being a reason to oppose development in ANWR, the time it takes to develop the resource should be treated as a reason to approve it as quickly as possible.
Consider what would be different today had the Senate agreed to open those 2,000 acres a decade ago. If production were coming online right now as expected, it would be providing our nation with a number of much-needed benefits—including a lot more oil.
Oil prices would be restrained, if not reduced, as Alaskan crude made up for both actual and threatened losses around the world. Billions of dollars in new revenues would be generated for the U.S. Treasury, reducing the deficit and providing us with a means to invest in new energy technologies.
Oil imports would be reduced, keeping dollars within our economy to promote growth here at home. Thousands of ANWR-related, well-paying new jobs would be created at zero cost to taxpayers. And a looming national catastrophe—the shutdown for economic reasons of the increasingly empty trans-Alaska pipeline—would be averted.
It's a shame that we are forced to forgo these benefits at a time when all are desperately needed. But this is not just a missed opportunity; it's a cautionary tale.