Ken Boyd received a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in geology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. He worked for both Gulf Oil and Marathon Oil as an exploration geophysicist and was the Director of the Division of Oil and Gas for the State of Alaska from 1995 to 2001. He is currently working as an oil and gas consultant.
For the past 30 years, Alaska's oil has been important to the people of Alaska and the nation as a whole. Currently Alaska is supplying about 15% of our nation's domestic oil, nearly one of every seven barrels. This is down from over 20%, but thanks to new technology and continuing commitment to explore and drill, that number will stay firm for about six more years. The Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) is estimated to contain, on average, more than 10 billion barrels of oil. If true, this will more than double the amount of oil Alaska is currently producing, thus decreasing our nation's dependence on foreign oil imports. Only drilling will confirm whether this oil will be found in commercial quantities.
Yet there are those who decry exploring and drilling the Coastal Plain. One common lament is that ANWR is "the last great wilderness." This ignores the fact that 92% of ANWR is already in wilderness and refuge status. There are those who would prefer to ignore the Congressional mandate to evaluate the 1002 area (the only section of ANWR being considered for oil development) and simply lock it up as wilderness. While putting the 1002 area into wilderness status may placate those of that view, it does not remove the fact that people live on the Coastal Plain. For example, the Inupiat Eskimo people who live in the village of Kaktovik on Barter Island largely support drilling and resent their home being called "wilderness." This is where they have lived for centuries, and they subsist and recreate on this land. A political designation of the 1002 area as "wilderness" will not make it so.
The federal government currently owns about 235 million of Alaska' 365 million acres, about 64% of the state. That's bigger than the entire state of Texas. It's larger than Washington, Oregon, and California combined. Fifty-eight million of these acres are designated as "official" wilderness, which accounts for 56% of the nation's total. About 40% of Alaska's land is in some sort of protected status, including wilderness land. Alaska has the largest state park system in the country. The notion that Alaska is somehow "short" on wild places is simply wrong. If Alaska's wilderness lands were made into a state, it would be the 11th largest in the nation.
A comprehensive energy plan will be composed of many parts. Conservation is one part, as are potential alternative sources of power. Ignoring our own domestic oil sources denies us the ability to achieve a greater measure of energy self-sufficiency and security. There is no single solution, but opening the Coastal Plain of ANWR to responsible oil development clearly needs to be an important part ofthe equation.