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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Bodman: ANWR drilling to be stripped from energy bill

Not really a big news flash, but Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman told the Rocky Mountain News yesterday that oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is certain to be stripped from any energy bill eventually presented to President Bush. The controversial measure would almost certainly doom the bill.

The drilling measure was widely expected to be missing from the Senate's version of the energy bill. But in a surprise, the bill's author, Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) included it in the bill after all. In April the House passed its version of the bill, which also includes ANWR drilling.

"I think (drilling in the ANWR) will be removed from the energy bill and be dealt with separately," Bodman told the News, which treated this as a major news event. "The big problem is getting the bill passed."

None of this really matters, of course, because the plot all along has been to bury the ANWR drilling provision in the massive federal budget bill, where it will be immune to fillibuster. A first version of the budget has already passed Congress that could pave the way for drilling. But a final version still has to pass, and that's not likely to happen until late fall, reports KTUU-TV in Anchorage (which has been following this more closely than most of the print media).

“The committees are expected to report legislation in September with final legislation reaching the president's desk in October,” budget analyst Brian Riedl of the Heritage Foundation told KTUU.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Survey wars: Yale poll shows little drilling support

Courtesy of Green Car Congress comes another new survey that addresses ANWR drilling. This one is a June 2005 public opinion poll by the Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy on American Attitudes on the Environment.

While the poll obviously addresses broader environmental issues, one question targets the ANWR drilling debate by asking if opening the refuge to oil drilling is an effective strategy to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil. Only 36 percent of those polled said this was a "good" or "very good" idea, while 56 percent said this is a "bad" or "very bad" idea.

The people polled in this survey clearly understand that ANWR drilling is not a long-term energy strategy. But I'm not sure how to reconcile these results with those of the previous Washington Post-ABC poll discussed earlier. It could come down to the way the question was asked, or the makeup of the respondents. But even if you average the results of the two questions, the results indicate clear public resistance to ANWR drilling.

The annual survey of 1000 adults found that more than nine out of ten Americans worry about dependence on foreign oil, and even greater numbers want government to develop new clean energy technologies, and to require the auto industry to produce cars and trucks with higher gas mileage. This finding holds across all regions of the country and demographic groups. All agree it is time for Washington to step up to the challenges of the country’s energy future. The poll also revealed broad support for cleaning up air and water and a desire for more government involvement in environmental protection.

The survey was conducted by Global Strategy Group from May 15 to 22, 2005, using professional phone interviewers. The survey has an overall margin of error of 3 percent.

As Green Car Congress notes, the survey reveals that 93 percent of Americans favor requiring the auto industry to make cars that get better gas mileage. Just 6 percent say this is a bad idea. This sentiment varies little by political leaning, with 96 percent of Democrats and Independents and 86 percent of Republicans supporting the call for more fuel-efficient vehicles. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, meanwhile, have been protecting the auto industry from regulations that would increase fuel efficiency.

“This poll suggests that Washington is out of touch with the American people,” said Dan Esty, director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.

Now that's a news flash.

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Wednesday, June 08, 2005

New poll: Slim opposition to ANWR drilling

A Washington Post-ABC News public opinion poll released today shows that 49 percent of those polled oppose drillling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while 48 percent support drilling. Four percent in the poll had no opinion.

The survey randomly polled 1,002 Americans and mainly covers national security and political popularity issues. Just one question addresses ANWR, but these are the latest polling results on the subject nevertheless. The full poll results (.pdf file) include results of the same question asked in five previous Post-ABC polls. This comparison shows that the latest results produce the highest support yet for drilling, despite ongoing slim opposition. (The poll has a margin of error of 3 points).

To me, the declining opposition to drilling is a result of public unease over gas prices, and the masterful job that drilling supporters and politicians have done in convincing the public that ANWR oil will reduce prices and have little impact on the refuge (both fallacies). It also suggests that drilling opponents' campaign to save ANWR is not having a major impact on the public and needs to be stepped up significantly. In other words, the oil industry is still winning this battle.

As mentioned, the poll spends most of its time on more generic political issues, and it's worth reading for those results alone. The overall poll shows a striking loss of faith in Bush administration policies on many fronts, and in the Republican agenda overall.

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Friday, June 03, 2005

Drilling foes set June 11 as 'Arctic Action Day'

Environmental groups and others opposed to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge have targeted June 11 as "Arctic Action Day." Coordinated by the Alaska Wilderness League, they have set up a new toll-free hotline to help people contact their elected officials to voice opposition to ANWR drilling. By calling 1-888-8-WILDAK (1-888-894-5325), activists will be seamlessly routed to the office of their local representative in Congress.

The coalition has also created free "Arctic Action Kits" that people can use to host local events to stir up opposition to drilling. The kits include copies of short documentary films that can be presented at small "house parties" to raise awareness about the threats posed by ANWR drilling. Participants can also obtain free copies of the documentary "Being Caribou" that we just posted about in the previous entry on this blog.

The Wilderness Society had this to say about Arctic Action Day in a recent email alert:
"This summer will be a pivotal time for the battle to save the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. House and Senate committees
will be laboring to write legislative language opening the
Refuge to oil drilling to be included in a 'reconciliation' bill
that will be considered by both chambers in September. Our goal
between now and then will be to mobilize an unprecedented show
of public opposition to drilling across the country. It all
starts with Arctic Action Day, June 11."

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New documentary traces ANWR caribou

The Canadian Broadcasting Corp. last night premiered part one of a new documentary called "Being Caribou." The film chronicles the five-month journey of newlyweds Leanne Allison and Karsten Heuer as they track the herd of 120,000 porcupine caribou from central Yukon to their annual calving grounds on the coast of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The second half of the documentary, produced by the National Film Board of Canada, runs next Thursday, June 9.

The couple followed the herd on foot for 1,500 kilometers.
"They let the caribou guide them through a wild and remote landscape, from the central Yukon to coastal Alaska and back. During the five-month journey, they ski and hike across mountains, swim icy rivers, brave Arctic weather and endure hordes of mosquitoes. They survive an encounter with a hungry grizzly bear that forces them to reconcile what it means to be a part of true wilderness. Hunger, fatigue and pain become routine, but the sacrifice is worth it when they witness the miracle of birth just metres from their tent."
It's clearly a unique attempt to portray the migratory life of this herd, which is so integral to ANWR's fate. Sounds like it's worth watching.

Not sure how most of us in the U.S. will do that, but perhaps those with satellite TV service can tune in to the CBC. Copies of the documentary can also be ordered from the NFB's online store or by calling (800) 542-2164. "Being Caribou" is also showing at the Seattle International Film Festival through June 12.

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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Prof: ANWR oil "too small to notice"

Writing in today's San Jose Mercury News, UC Berkeley professor Severin Borenstein says the volume of oil estimated in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge might reduce U.S. gas prices at the pump by 4 cents, "but will almost certainly do no more than that."

"How can it be that producing a million additional U.S. barrels of oil a day can have so little benefit for U.S. consumers?" Borestein asks in his column. "Simple. The oil doesn't belong to U.S. consumers. ... The new supplies become just drops in the worldwide oil bucket."

Borenstein, a business and public policy professor, is also director of the UC Energy Institute. He goes on to say, in words that stick, that we will never achieve "energy independence" as long as oil is our primary fuel. And the average American consumer's belief that they are entitled to cheap oil is a falacy that has been reinforced by political myth-makers who know it has traction with voters.

Politicians, he says, have knowingly let the nation become more and more dependent on a resource that is increasingly held in fewer hands. They have repeatedly failed to show the courage required to tell Americans the truth, which is that we all must sacrifice to reduce our dependence on a limited resource held by oppressive foreign governments.

"The current powers in Washington are not the first invertebrates to fail that challenge," Borenstein writes. "They are just the most successful in promoting the myth that drilling in Alaska is an alternative strategy for curbing oil prices."

In less than 700 words, Borenstein presents this truth more memorably than any commentator in recent years.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2005

BP may restart Badami wells near ANWR

High oil prices may lure British Petroleum to restart operations at its Badami oilfield, the easternmost field on Alaska's North Slope, located about halfway between Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"We want to try new technology and hopefully change Badami's fortune," BP spokesman Daren Beaudo told the Anchorage Daily News.

Badami became a major bust for BP soon after it went into production in 1998, producing only 1,400 barrels per day out of a total North Slope production of around 1 million barrels per day. Production was halted in 2003. The seven wells at Badami cost more than $300 million to develop and have produced a little more 4 million barrels of oil so far. Which means the project probably never got even halfway toward breaking even. All of Badami's seven wells operate from a single gravel pad, representing an example of how the industry and politicians say oilfields in ANWR will operate.

Will Nebesky of Alaska's Division of Oil and Gas said BP's announcement indicates that $50-per-barrel oil will continue for some time. "They think in terms of sustainable price," he said. "That's encouraging that Badami would be getting attention again."

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Friday, May 27, 2005

ExxonMobil: Living in the past

A group of ExxonMobil shareholders Wednesday failed to get the oil giant to adopt a resolution that would have mandated a study on the environmental risks of oil drilling in sensitive locations, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The company is expected to be a leading player in the search for oil if ANWR is opened to exploration.

The resolution, calling for a "biodiversity impact report," can be found here. It was brought forward by the US Public Interest Research Group, and socially responsible investing firms Green Century Capital Management and Clean Yield Asset Management. It received "yes" votes from only 8.1 percent of ExxonMobil shareholers.

Getting stronger support, but still not passing, was another shareholder resolution asking ExxonMobil to disclose its plans for complying with greenhouse gas reduction targets in countries participating in the Kyoto Protocol. This resolution received 28 percent support from shareholders.

ExxonMobil shares the Bush administration's fringe position that the science on climate change is "inconclusive." Yet another shareholder resolution called on ExxonMobil to document its sources for this claim, but received only 10.3 percent support (though that was an increase from last year).

Said Pat Daly, executive director of the Tri-State Coalition for Responsible Investing: “Our primary concern is that, unlike other oil and gas companies, ExxonMobil has no plans to transform the company so it can live in a carbon-constrained world.”

All this contrasts harshly with glossy ads ExxonMobil is running in major magazines lately, including recent issues of The New Yorker that, ironically, contained an eye-opening three-part series on global warming. "We're all for reducing emissions," the ads read. "ExxonMobil refineries capture steam that would otherwise be wasted and use it in the refining process. Recent energy-savinng initiatives like this have had a dramatic effect on emissions: the equivalent of taking well over a million cars off the road, every year."

They don't mention that this is old technology that has been used in other refineries and industrial facilities for many years as a cost-saving measure.

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