By Amy Flis
The approaching elections and continued rise in fuel costs have put increasing pressure on politicians to appease American voters by supporting oil drilling in protected environmental areas. The most prominent recent example has been the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Although drilling would temporarily relieve the strain put on American citizens by high oil prices, the United States needs to act now to formulate and execute a long-term solution to end its dependence on oil. More drilling is not the answer.
Many politicians have been optimistic about the results of drilling in ANWR, the largest wilderness in the United States and home to animals such as caribou, polar bears, seals, and birds. In a speech on June 9, 2008, President Bush went so far as to say that drilling would “take the pressure off the price of gasoline.” However, this is not the case.
In fact, drilling in ANWR will not have a significant impact on world oil prices and only a limited impact on U.S. dependency on foreign oil according to report released in May 2008 by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an independent statistical agency within the Department of Energy. This report supports the claim that drilling is only a quick fix for the rising gas prices. After those years are up, the United States will find itself in the same position it is in currently.
In addition, the consumption of fossil fuels threatens the health of every organism on this planet, including our own. America’s dependence on oil, whether the oil is foreign or domestically-produced, has harmful effects beyond its economic implications. Burning of fossil fuels is at the root of numerous problems including high levels of pollution in cities, depletion of the ozone layer, and global warming. The occurrence of skin cancer has increased as the amount of protection provided by the ozone layer has decreased, and countless statues and monuments have been left damaged by acid rain. Then there are the more direct environmental impacts of oil spills, which can be completely devastating to an ecosystem. These are only a few of the ways that consumption of fossil fuels has affected both directly and indirectly the health of a planet.
Experts have warned for decades that an energy crisis was coming, but manageable fuel prices have meant that Americans have had little need to act. Consequently, America’s daily consumption of oil has continued to rise to its current level of over 20 million barrels per day according to the EIA. Now that prices are soaring, Americans must react, and they need to do so in a way that keeps in mind the long-term goals. Drilling for oil now will only mean that the real decisions are left for our children to make.
Despite the possible short-term benefits, opening up ANWR for drilling is just that—a short-term solution that will only lead to more short-term answers to growing energy worries. The larger concern is that these actions could alleviate America’s need to reach the necessary long-term solutions of alternative energy and decreased reliance on oil. This energy crisis is the opportunity America needs to free itself of its dependence on oil, because at the rate we have been going, we may never make that shift.
Voters need to consider how critical the issues of sustainable energy and oil independence are as they look at candidates for the coming elections, and even after the elections, continue to hold politicians accountable for the promises they make now by speaking out and writing letters concerning this critical debate. Clearly this argument is not just about the preservation of pristine wilderness and priceless wildlife but about the preservation of the health of a nation, its economy, and its people.