BY KAREN GRAHAM
Washington - The White House budget will be delivered to Congress on Tuesday, and as part of President Trump's plans to help balance the federal budget is a proposal to open the coastal plain (Area 1002) of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.
And while the president's budget is far-reaching in the number of critical cuts to many agencies and the services they provide, it is meant as a proposal and will probably not be approved by Congress in its current form.
But at the same time, it does reveal President Trump's unwavering hope of ramping up America's energy output. And the wealth of oil lying under Alaska's coastal plain, estimated at about 10.4 billion barrels of oil — compared with 25 billion at the older Prudhoe Bay oil field to the west, has been the subject of a never-ending political debate for years, according to the Associated Press.
Located in Alaska's northeast corner, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) covers 2,300 square miles (5,957 square kilometers), an area about the size of West Virginia and Connecticut combined, and Trump want's it opened up to oil drilling.
The president's plan for the American energy sector
First of all, the U.S. right now has the world's largest reserves of petroleum. The U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), located in heavily guarded underground caverns in Louisiana and Texas, holds about 688 million barrels of oil.
The president proposes to sell off half this reserve, in the fiscal year 2018, which begins in October this year. According to budget documents, the sale would generate about $500 million. But not stopping there, the plan is for sales from the reserve to rise over the coming years, peaking at $3.9 billion in 2027, and totaling nearly $16.6 billion from 2018 to 2027.
Of course, the president's plan is just that - A proposed plan that is left to the whims of economics and a world trying its best to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Just the announcement of the Trump plan to sell off half the SPR's was enough to drop crude oil prices to just over $50 a barrel this week.
And no one should be surprised at the timing of the announcement of the White House budget plan on Tuesday. It was released right after Trump left Saudi Arabia, home-base of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Reuters reports that some experts are seeing this as an attempt to undermine OPEC's plans to tighten global markets by cutting production, even though American shale production is off the charts.
And if drilling in the ANWR should come to pass, Trump's budget request seeks to raise $1.8 billion over the next 10 years while adding to oil reserves that have already jumped 10 percent since the middle of 2016 to 9.3 million barrels a day, thanks to shale production.
When you get right down to the nitty-gritty, Trump sees us swimming in "black gold," and to hell with global warming, OPEC and anything else that gets in the way of his America First policy. And this mindset does indeed, raise serious questions.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge needs our protection
The ANWR was given federal protection by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 through legislation creating the reserve. Of course, by the 1980s, Congress was beginning to realize the potential for oil production and authorized studies of the coastal plain.
The studies included the tundra region from the Beaufort Sea to the foothills of the Brooks Range, and this is the area that Trump now wants to be opened up to petroleum production. And in an attempt to be fair, Alaska would benefit from increased drilling in the region.
Alaska Governor Bill Walker says it is frustrating to be sitting on billions of barrels of oil in an area that is only about 60 miles from a pipeline that's three-quarters empty. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, says opening up the ANWR region to drilling requires its own legislation and not just a budget request.
"But I will tell you that whenever we have anything that's germane to energy, to economic development, to anything that goes through the Senate that might be germane to this, we'll be pushing it," Mulvaney said, according to Alaska Dispatch News.
Kristen Miller, who heads the Alaska Wilderness League says "For 30 years, Congress has voted nearly 50 times on whether or not to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." She went on to point out that "the Arctic Refuge is one of our nation's most majestic places, home to the Porcupine caribou herd, musk oxen, wolves, imperiled polar bears, and nearly 200 species of migratory birds that migrate to six continents and all 50 states"
It is also a subsistence hunting ground that has been used by Alaskan Indigenous people for thousands of years. It is a totally wild place. There are no roads, no campgrounds or even established paths, and Alaskan natives and environmentalists want to keep it that way.
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Image credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service