Both US presidential candidates are pledging not to allow oil drilling in ANWR if elected in November.
Consistently, both Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, and Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, have voiced opposition to drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“(Obama) doesn’t believe that drilling in ANWR is the single answer to our energy problem here in the United States,” said Jeff Giertz, Obama’s director of communications in Alaska.
“Reducing our dependence on foreign oil should be a priority, and that involves investing in renewable sources of energy like renewable fuels: ethanol, biodiesel, etc. Wind energy, solar energy and other energy forms,” he said.
Drilling in ANWR is a “red-herring issue,” said Giertz.
Unlike Obama, McCain has announced support for offshore oil drilling, yet he remains opposed to ANWR drilling, reasoning that benefits resulting from drilling could not be retrieved “without considerable costs to taxpayers.”
“Senator McCain has had a long-held opposition to drilling in ANWR — much longer than Senator Obama,” said Giertz.
In June, McCain told journalists in Minneapolis: “ANWR is a pristine place and if they found oil in the Grand Canyon, I don’t think I’d drill in the Grand Canyon.’’
Minutes later, McCain said that if new information were to surface that drilling in ANWR could be ecologically safe, he would be willing to “go back and look at it again.”
“I think about 80 per cent of the folks in the state here support drilling in ANWR,” said a senior Alaskan Republican, who hopes that McCain will change his position come the Republican National Convention in early September.
Recently, a small number of Republican congressional delegates “turned around on ANWR” after visiting the site and learning about the drilling technology to be used, said the source, who asked to remain anonymous.
“I think if we can get somebody that’s real close to Senator McCain on energy policy up here, that they’ll probably listen to us,” he said.
A new position on the issue could grant McCain a potential surge in the polls, said Arctic Power, a Washington-based pro- ANWR-drilling lobby group.
“Potentially, we see that he could benefit from changing (his stance on ANWR drilling), because if he could swing the focus onto the need for increasing domestic (oil) production, that would be helpful to him,” said Kim Duke, an Arctic Power representative.
However, the same would not hold true for Senator Obama, she said.
“I don’t think his political base would be open to that, to tell you the truth. I could argue for the benefits of changing his position, but I don’t think that they would be relevant to his campaign,” said Duke.
For more than 40 years, drilling in ANWR has been a contentious political issue.
The area is estimated by geologists to hold 10.4 billion barrels of oil, but environmentalists assert drilling operations would disrupt the Porcupine caribou herd that uses the region as calving grounds.
ANWR-drilling lobby efforts received a significant setback in the wake of the ecological disaster resulting from the 1989 sinking of the Exxon Valdez off Prince William Sound, Alaska.
However, skyrocketing oil prices and worries about US dependence on foreign oil have once again catapulted ANWR into the political arena.
In 2004, the US government’s Energy Information Administration reported that if ANWR were opened to drilling, it would only “slightly reduce” United States dependence on oil imports.