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Tapping Alaska for oil is the wrong approach

The Senate passed a measure, Wednesday, that makes oil drilling in Alaska’s protected wilderness likely. But even in the best-case scenario, such measures only promise to supply a fraction of U.S. oil needs. At the same time, drilling and transportation of oil could come at disastrous ecological costs, making the decision to drill there even more shortsighted.

Oil prices are rising. Even members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), who supply about two-thirds of the world’s oil, stated it is unlikely oil production would increase significantly. Experts predict oil prices could easily double in the near future. This makes for a good argument to bolster the attempt of America to become less dependent on oil imports.

The rising costs have garnered support for the drilling in Alaska’s protected areas. But even though Americans feel the pinch at the pump, popular support is lacking. Fifty-three percent oppose the measure, while 38 percent condone it.

The goal to become less dependent on foreign oil is a worthy one. Having to rely on foreign countries, the United States can be taken hostage, as has happened in the past. When OPEC countries did not agree with U.S. foreign policy, oil supply to the United States was cut, leaving the nation in economic turmoil. A crisis like the ones that occurred in the 1970s should be avoided at all costs.

But to drill in Alaska is the wrong approach. Estimations vary, but most studies put the best output numbers from 5 to 10 percent of America’s oil consumption. The reserves would also likely tap out after only a few years.

The damage such production could cause, though, would remain for years. When Congress previously lobbied for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the endeavors were cut short when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez spilled oil, contaminating large areas for years.

What the spillage illustrated was how fragile the environment of the Arctic is and that it cannot take disruptions of this magnitude.

It’s probably not the only reason, but the close ties many high-ranking officials have with the oil industry likely figured into the Senate’s decision-making process.

The watch group CapitalEye, which focuses on financial ties in the U.S. government, pointed out that oil companies overwhelmingly financed Republicans in past campaigns, throwing 74 percent of their money behind that party’s candidates. The Bush family’s ties to oil have been largely established, but other members of the administration are equally chummy with oil big shots. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was a Chevron director from 1991 until January 2001 and had an oil tanker named after her. The Condoleezza Rice was quietly renamed “Altair Voyager” when Rice took office, but the imagery could not be more succinct.

The goals hoped to be achieved by drilling in the Arctic are commendable, but they will not materialize. And even if drilling there could alleviate problems related to oil demand, it would only take care of a symptom, not the underlying problem.

To have true energy independence, America should rather focus its energies on exploring energy conservation measures as well as alternative and renewable energy sources. Our nation would benefit economically while protecting one of its last remaining natural treasures.