Alexander's Column

ANWR's Spotted Owl

Mark Alexander · Apr. 4, 2008

“I own myself the friend to a very free system of commerce, and hold it as a truth, that commercial shackles are generally unjust, oppressive and impolitic.” –James Madison

In February 2008, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton decreed that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) could designate 8.6 million acres in Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico as critical habitat for the “endangered” Spotted Owl, Strix occidentalis (no relation to Occidental Petroleum Co.), thus “protecting” this land from cattle grazing, logging and any other human enterprise that might give the little owl indigestion.

This is the same critter that shut down logging operations in the Pacific Northwest and is one of many wild species now being favored over the much-maligned domestic species, Homo sapiens.

The efficacy of using the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as a blunt instrument to pursue radical environmental ends began in 1973, the same year the act became law. No coincidence there.

The test case was a tiny fish called the Snail Darter, which was residing in the Little Tennessee River, which was in the process of being dammed up by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Tellico project. Environmentalists, who objected to TVA’s project, decided to use the Darter to block the dam.

It almost worked, but the legal tactic was new and Tellico was already funded and under way. However, the Darter offensive did halt a larger TVA project a few years later, before it was determined that the Darter was getting along just fine in streams all over Tennessee.

It is no small irony that the first use of ESA was to block hydroelectric projects, a renewable-energy source and one of the energy objectives that both conservatives and liberals support.

There is a much more ominous ESA challenge on the table right now, but this political ruse will do a lot more to endanger our national security than protect any species.

The U.S. uses about 21 million barrels of oil daily – about three gallons per person – for transportation, manufacturing and energy production. We have to import 13 million barrels per day, 45 percent of that from Western nations (30 percent from Canada and Mexico), and the remaining 55 percent from Africa and the Middle East.

Political instability in Africa and the Middle East render them less than dependable providers of imported oil, which is to say that 28 percent of U.S. oil demand is less than dependable.

Oil is currently over $100 per barrel and given the giant sucking sound coming out of China and India, this time next year, $100 may seem like a bargain unless the surge in oil prices is matched with a surge in oil exploration and delivery.

Total annual consumption of oil in the U.S. is about 7.6 billion barrels. However, it is estimated that there is more than a trillion barrels of retrievable oil under the U.S., most of it in oil shale (Green River basin), and billions more in deep formations (Bakken Play) and under the Arctic’s Northern Slope.

When oil was at $35 per barrel, there was no incentive to retrieve these reserves. At $100 per barrel plus, however, there is plenty of incentive.

Enter ignoble laureate Albert Arnold Gore and his gullible warming Gorons. They are intent on stopping further domestic-oil exploration, claiming that human industrial activity is a major factor accelerating global warming.

The Gorons have already lobbied hard to prevent additional offshore exploration on our East and West Coasts and are adamantly opposed to renewable energy sources such as nuclear generators. (Even Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore now advocates nuclear energy: “We don’t believe we have been making too much electricity. We believe we’ve been making energy with the wrong technologies.”)

Teddy Kennedy certainly doesn’t want his Cape Cod views obscured by unsightly wind generators.

Where do we go from here?

The most readily available proven U.S. oil reserves waiting to be tapped are under a vast wasteland on the northern slope of Alaska called the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). I am one of few humans to have actually visited ANWR, and can tell you that the most prolific wildlife species in the region are mosquitoes the size of Turkey Vultures, but with more voracious appetites.

However, there’s an estimated 10 billion barrels of oil up there, and that is enough Black Gold to keep Teddy Kennedy and his constituents warm and cozy for a century.

Nonetheless the Gorons are going to block exploration and extraction of oil in ANWR. They are constructing that gauntlet right now using the ESA as its foundation. They claim there is another species up there that would become endangered if the climate continues to warm: that lovable lug, the polar bear.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council and Greenpeace are suing the USFWS (of Spotted Owl fame) for delaying action to declare polar bears “threatened” and provide them protection. A 2007 U.S. Geological Survey report speculates that 60 percent of polar bears might perish by 2050 if global warming continues to melt Arctic sea ice.

If declared threatened, the polar bear would become the first species designated a potential victim of global warming.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (S-CA) claims the Bush administration is delaying the USFWS decision in an effort to complete exploration permits for Alaska’s Chukchi Sea: “The administration went ahead and accepted bids, even though oil and gas activities may disturb polar bears making a den. … Time is running out for the polar bear, and time has run out for this decision.”

Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) rejoined that this would set a precedent, and that the USFWS would henceforth have to establish that every human enterprise would not potentially disturb a threatened species: “Virtually every human activity that involved the release of carbon into the atmosphere would have to be regulated by the federal government.”

If that sounds familiar, it is because I have argued for years that the Gorons’ environmental agenda was really a short cut to centralized government control of the economy – what in common parlance is known as, “Socialism.”

Unfortunately, the ever-unapprised Sen. John Warner (R-VA), primary sponsor of climate-change legislation up for consideration in June, piped in, “I think we have an obligation toward this extraordinary animal. It’s America’s panda bear, and all Americans are in love with it.”

Well, I for one have never tasted polar bear, so it is presumptuous of Warner to claim that I have any special affinity for the beast.

Here one might ask, “If global warming is inevitable, and no amount of Kyotoization can mitigate the warming (because China and India won’t comply), then what is the logical conclusion? Aren’t polar bears in trouble regardless of Arctic oil exploration?”

Meanwhile, Red China, with help from the Castro boys, is exploring for oil just 45 miles off Florida’s coast. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the North Cuban Basin contains at least 4.6 billion barrels of oil. Oh well … maybe the ChiComs will give us a good price.

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