Tuesday, April 29, 2008

In the Rose Garden, Bush Bullshits Us Once Again

Looking out toward the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

In today's Rose Garden Press Conference, President Bush invoked The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) no less than NINE times, as he attempted to forge a link between our failure to exploit this national treasure and the high cost of gasoline.

He drew the same linkage in 2001 when the price of gasoline was roughly $1.45 per gallon. Today, the price of regular gasoline is $4.00 per gallon here in my home town and George is at it once again. "ANWR is the answer!" What absolute bullshit!

In fact, the Administration's tireless effort to open this hallowed ground to oil drilling is motivated merely by potential oil industry profits. In 1987, Canada and the United States signed a treaty to protect the last great North American caribou herd, the Porcupine Herd, and preserve its habitat and migration routes. To guarantee these protections in its portion of the range, Canada created national parks. The United States established the more ambiguous designation of "wildlife refuge". Despite repeated efforts to exploit the weaknesses of such a designation, Congress, in response to public outcry, has blocked attempts to open ANWR to development.

Perhaps it was assumed when the Alaska Pipeline was constructed in the 1970s that Prudhoe Bay's oilfields were much larger. But flow from Prudhoe Bay has now been declining for years. The quality of crude is diminished and requires extra processing. To justify the cost of maintaining the pipeline, the Haul Road, the facilities at Deadhorse, and to sustain profitability for the oil companies and services involved (ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, BP, Haliburton and others), new reserves must be tapped.

The plan was to develop new fields, east and west of Prudhoe, and build lateral feeder pipelines to transfer that oil to Prudhoe Bay and southward to Valdez via the Alaska Pipeline. ANWR's boundary is only about 50 miles east of Prudhoe Bay, and this of course limits eastward expansion. However, west of Prudhoe, development is proceeding with vigor.

(Curiously, President Bush neglected to mention the other massive oil development projects proceeding "at full steam" along the western half of the North Slope, including the February 6th auction of first-time oil leases in Alaska's pristine Chukchi Sea, which happens to be critical polar bear habitat. It is suspected that the debate over listing the polar bear as endangered has been delayed while these lease sales were allowed to proceed.)

Though time and again Americans have demanded the Wildlife Refuge be preserved in its pristine condition, and the intent of our treaty with Canada honored, the President now tells us that exploration and extraction technology is so advanced, the actual operations footprint on the tundra would be negligible. (The President today used the euphemism "exploration" rather than "drilling" or "exploitation". This is very intentional, and designed to elicit the most benign visualization of proposed activities in ANWR.)

I have been to Prudhoe Bay and have seen the oil field operations. Drills don't operate without a sprawling infrastructure of roads, heavy equipment, electrical generating stations, pipelines, collecting stations, pumping stations, maintenance and repair yards, aircraft landing pads, personnel and vehicles, housing, recreational facilities, stores, etc. The amount of activity on the North Slope also determines the number of big rigs hauling materials and supplies up the Dalton Highway ("The Haul Road") on a daily basis.

I've seen the industrialization of the Arctic, and the brown haze that hangs low over the sea up there. The uncertain impacts of further Arctic industrialization and pollution, upon a tundra and ocean ecosystem already threatened with collapse from climate change is pure insanity.

President Bush came into office demanding that ANWR be opened to drilling. Now frustrated for over seven years, he's making one last desperate attempt to break the barrier. On this important matter, Americans have repeatedly rebuffed attempts to circumvent their will. Today, he unashamedly invoked the rise in gasoline and food prices, and exploited our fears to advance his personal agenda.

The oilfields beneath ANWR will not substantially impact world oil supply (the primary price determinant) and will only incrementally increase the security of domestic supplies for a limited time (estimates range from 12 to 32 years.) According to Wikipedia, depending upon whether you use the most pessimistic or optimistic projections, the recoverable oil in ANWR would supply the American market for between 215 and 525 DAYS.

Why is the price of gasoline so high? President Bush is simply deceiving Americans. There are many factors that influence the price at the pump (none for which the President will acknowledge the slightest responsibility.) Chief among these:
  • Instability in key oil-producing countries. (Thanks to the Bush's "War of Opportunity in Iraq", the Gulf States region remain more volatile than ever. Threatening Iran only exacerbates the tensions. And we have continually attempted to undermine and destabilize Hugo Chavez's regime in Venezuela (even supporting a 2002 coup.) Venezuela is our fifth largest supplier after Canada, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. So far we haven't declared war on Canada, but we're sure trying to piss off Mexico!
  • Weakening U.S. Dollar (the basis for international oil pricing.) Thanks to Bush's foreign policy, off-shoring of American jobs and industries and our government's failure to regulate the trading of mortgage-backed securities, the Dollar is increasingly regarded as an unstable investment.
  • Increased involvement of Hedge Funds and speculators in the oil market. (With the sub-prime debacle, speculators are now finding fuel and food much more rewarding commodities.)
  • Bush Administration opposition to increased fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards from Day 1
  • Bush Administration refusal to acknowledge Global Warming and fossil fuel impacts, until recently, thwarting the implementation of alternative fuel programs
  • Global and domestic petroleum production levels (adjusted according to demand. Currently adequate with excess capacity.)
  • Global and domestic petroleum inventory levels (currently high in the U.S.)
  • Global and domestic demand (rising globally, but showing slight decline in the U.S.)
  • Refining levels (currently increasing in the U.S., though Bush misleadingly stated today "It's been more than 30 years since America built its last new refinery.")
  • Oil company profits (across the board, at all-time record levels)
While the potential increase in supply from ANWR is hardly significant in the global market, where pricing is regulated by supply and demand, and there would be no significant downward pressure on pricing from this input alone (in the marketplace, oil from ANWR would be priced as any other equivalent grade oil), and, as long as the stress factors listed remain in effect, opening ANWR assures windfall profits down the road for the oil companies and oil field services involved.

Of course, development means jobs and increased revenues for the local Alaskan economy, but for Americans in general, the transfer of 5% of our oil consumption from foreign to domestic sources is meaningless. If market pricing and national security were a driving concern, Americans could exert a far greater impact simply through conservation. (I have conserved over 75% by simply not working! Not that I recommend such a radical approach.)

What we saw in the Rose Garden today was simply the same old stuff: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney taking care of business, taking care of friends and taking care of themselves. It has very little to do with concern for the average American.

But beyond this, I sense the attack on ANWR is somehow a personal face-saving matter for George W. Bush. It is one trophy he is determined to take, at any cost. As part of his legacy, this oil man intends to defeat the environmentalists and conquer ANWR.

Once again, America, it's time to tell George and Dick "go fuck yourselves!"

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