Mr Bush & Alaska Bristol Bay Oil Drilling

Mr Bush & Alaska Bristol Bay Oil Drilling

The Seattle PI today reports that on Tuesday President Bush announced he was lifting a ban on oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. His action now allows the Interior Department to allow drilling on some 5.6 million Alaska_oil acres as part of a five year leasing plan. Bristol Bay leases would be available in 2010 And 2012. Given Mr. Bush’s appointments to the Interior Department of people who support oil industry interests, the Department is expected to rubber stamp approval. Alaska’s new Republican Governor Sarah Palin welcomed the news. But the area in question is known for its endangered whales and some of the world’s largest salmon runs. The fisheries in the area include abundant numbers of cod, crab, halibut and huge schools of herring as well as salmon. It is also a critical habitat and feeding grounds for the one of the most endangered whales on earth, the North Pacific Right Whale. The proposed area overlaps the migratory route for the returning salmon. The Bristol Bay area is known first hand to me and to many fisherman in my home town of Anacortes. Each Summer men from Anacortes would travel to Bristol Bay to gill net for salmon and purse seiners would include the area in their fishing trip to Alaska and back down to Puget Sound. As a high school student I remember fishing the area on purse seine boats and the huge quantity of salmon and other fish that were processed in the canneries. It was a remote and very primitive area in a natural, unspoiled state.

However, in the same newspaper there was a report of an earthquake on Wednesday with a magnitude of 3.4 that occurred in the Aleutian Islands area where the proposed drilling would take place. On Tuesday there had been another earthquake of 5.7 magnitude in Southeast Alaska. Alaska sits on a seismic fault line. The risk of oil spill from earthquake is a reality in this area.

On top of that, the paper also reported on Wednesday there was another Trans-Alaska pipeline oil spill that required closure of the system. The line was carrying 800,000 gallons of oil when it was shut down. In March there was an oil spill from the pipe land that was from 200,000 to 260,000 gallons covering two acres due to corrosion of the pipeline. That’s considerably less then the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker spill which dumped 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince Williams Sound. So in addition, to earthquake there is the ever present risk of a spill which would cause irreparable damage to the fragile environment and the fisheries.

In February’s address on energy Mr Bush said that the nation has "an addiction" to "foreign oil" and proposed development of new technology. But, instead he pushed for another attempt to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). However, it would take ten years or more for any oil found there to be available for use. Nor would such a supply reduce the cost of fuel or the dependence on oil because it would be an insignificant amount compared to our total consumption needs. In fact, additional oil supplies from Alaska would not have any significant impact on our oil dependence. What is required is a reduced dependence by a reduced use of the oil through conservation. A leading factor is the fuel consumption of automobiles which this administration refuses to do anything about. The auto industry continues to manufacture gas guzzling cars without any restraints from the administration. If even one small step was take it would make a substantial difference. Increasing the miles per gallon of automobiles only three miles per gallon would save one million barrels of oil a day.

Meanwhile, Democrats are pushing for a ban on Alaska drilling. Legislation has been introduced in the house which would make ANWR permanently unavailable for oil exploration. The tug of war between oil interests and the fragile environment of Alaska continues

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