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Will ANWR be Collateral Damage in the War on Iraq?

by JASON LEOPOLD

In the coming weeks, the Senate will attempt to make a compelling argument for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling. It turns out that tapping into ANWR’s resources would produce an immediate 600,000 barrels per day of oil-exactly the same amount of oil the U.S. currently purchases from Iraq under the United Nations oil for food program.

The U.N. Security Council set up the oil-for-food program in August 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait and the U.N then imposed comprehensive sanctions on the country. The program was aimed at removing some of the hardships placed on Iraqi civilians as a result of the sanctions. Since then, the U.S. has resented the fact that it has had to purchase Iraqi oil, which is crucial to our country’s overall supply, from Saddam Hussein who Bush Administration officials claim uses the money to fund his military and uses very little to reduce the suffering of innocent Iraqi’s affected by the sanctions.

Late Tuesday, Senate Republicans announced that they have secured all but one vote to open up ANWR to oil drilling, the cornerstone of President Bush’s energy policy.

The Associated Press reported that an internal GOP memo was circulated Tuesday in the Senate that 49 senators will back the drilling proposal and that the lawmakers are desperately searching for the remaining lawmaker needed to push the provision through as part of a budget measure.

“Dick Cheney has been working madly to secure the 50th (vote),” said the staff memo developed in the offices of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, AP reported.

If the U.S. does invade Iraq, which at this point seems inevitable, the Bush Administration is concerned that shortages will persist here forcing oil prices to skyrocket to unprecedented levels, putting further strain on the nation’s troubled economy. Oil prices in the past few weeks have come within a hair of $40 per barrel and analysts said that prices could reach as high as $70 if the U.S. goes to war with Iraq.

There is as much as 10 billion barrels of oil in more than 1 million acres surrounding ANWR. The United States uses about 20 million barrels of oil per day, and relies heavily on imports from the Middle East, Canada, Venezeula and Mexico. Environmentalists, who say drilling will hurt oxen, polar bears, the caribou population and other wildlife, will no doubt play an important role in the process.

At this point, according to key Republican lawmakers, it’s unclear whether the U.S. would be able to continue to import Iraqi oil if a war breaks out largely because there is concern among Bush Administration officials that Saddam Hussein may set fire to oil wells in the country. Moreover, these lawmakers said, it’s unlikely other Oil Petroleum Exporting Countries would increase output to help the U.S. because they don’t back the U.S. in a war against Iraq.

Since the United Nations embargo on Iraqi oil in August 1990, some 5 million barrels per day of oil has been removed from the market. Other OPEC countries increased their production capacity to make up the shortfall but they have already said they will not increase output in the event of a war.

So the lawmakers plan to argue that a decrease in oil imports is a national security issue and that ANWR should be opened up to drilling immediately, according to several Republican lawmakers in Washington who spoke to me off the record.

But much in the way the Bush Administration has tried to link the 9-11 terrorist attacks to Iraq, which so far have been unproven, as a way to justify a war the same is being done in the case of drilling in ANWR. The argument is that a war with Iraq will cut off much needed imports so the U.S. has no choice but to tap into its own resources. The truth is, according to Republican lawmakers, no one knows what to expect in the event of a war or how it will affect our ability to import oil. .

However, Bush made it clear before he took office that tapping into ANWR was a priority for his administration because the U.S. is “at the mercy of foreign governments and cartels” when it comes to our oil needs. A month before the 2000 presidential election, Bush gave a speech in Michigan and said, “oil consumption is increasing, our production is dropping and our imports of foreign oil is skyrocketing,” according to the book “The Right Man,” written by Bush’s former speechwriter David Frum.

“It’s not that we should use less energy but that we should import less,” Bush said, according to Frum’s book. “This has become a national security issue.”

Key Democratic lawmakers, including Senator Joseph Lieberman, D-Connecticut, and Senator Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, said last week they will resist any attempt by Senate Republicans to open the ANWR for drilling.

GOP sources said they would deal with resistance by their Democratic counterparts to drilling in Northeastern Alaska by using a “filibuster-proof” legislative maneuver that would prevent Democrats from blocking passage of the energy policy with less than 50 votes. An aide to Senate Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, said getting the President’s energy policy approved is the first item on the Senate agenda if the United States engages in war with Iraq.

JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

 

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JASON LEOPOLD is the former Los Angeles bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires where he spent two years covering the energy crisis and the Enron bankruptcy. He just finished writing a book about the crisis, due out in December through Rowman & Littlefield. He can be reached at: jasonleopold@hotmail.com

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