“North to the Future”

Sep 142006
Authors: Nick Hemenway

Maybe it’s just me, but I hate filling up my car at the gas station. I can think of plenty of things I would rather spend $30 on other than gas. But perhaps the most frustrating thing to me is that I know something can be done to help ease our oil problems. Sadly, there are too many people in Washington who are standing in the way.

Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to spend some time in the great state of Alaska while visiting some of my family who live up there. If you have never been to our 49th state, I highly recommend it. Alaska is the home to the tallest mountain in the United States, abundant wildlife and a single glacier that is twice the size of Rhode Island.

Lately, however, the largest attraction has been the frozen tundra in the northern part of the state. I’m talking about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR as it is commonly referred to. Under portions of this land is what some geologists believe could be the largest onshore oil basin in U.S. history. When I heard this several years ago, I was really excited.

Finally, I thought, we can somewhat loosen the stranglehold that OPEC has on us. I was wrong, but for some unexpected reasons. The reason we still have not used this valuable resource is because of politicians in Washington who care more about their radical campaign contributors than the average American.

Whenever the subject of drilling in the ANWR comes up, opponents will, at the drop of a hat, attempt to distort the situation. They try to paint this picture of grizzly bears fishing for salmon in rivers while moose quietly graze in a meadow, when the big bad oil companies come in and destroy everything. As much as they would like you to think like this, it’s not true.

The area designated for drilling is a whole lot of nothing. This area is a flat, cold and barren landscape in which few species of plants and animals can survive. Furthermore, the proposed area for drilling is a tiny fraction of the ANWR. To be specific, only 2,000 acres have been set aside out of the 19 million acres that the ANWR encompasses. That means we only want to use roughly one hundredth of 1 percent of the ANWR.

So assuming we drill in the ANWR, what does this all mean? Although estimates vary, the amount of oil up there could be equivalent to what we would import from Saudi Arabia over the next 30 years. With that much oil in our control, I believe that OPEC would be forced to actually compete for our business, rather than just bully us around. This would result in lower gas prices across the country, among many other political changes.

Is this the panacea to our oil problems? Absolutely not. To completely solve that would involve several courses of action, including building new refineries-something that we haven’t done in over 30 years! Though limited, the ANWR will play a large role in our country’s path to energy independence.

Here is the truth: Even if we find new and renewable sources of energy, which I fully support researching, there will not be any widespread change to our country for a long time. Our need for oil will not disappear overnight, no matter how many celebrities drive hybrids. Developing these new technologies as fast as possible will still put us at least 20 years away from being able to step away from oil. So in the meantime, let’s not focus on who’s to blame about high gas prices, but rather what we can do here and now to work toward a tangible solution to a problem that affects every single American.

Nick Hemenway is a senior mechanical engineering major. His column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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