Bush has finally persuaded the US Senate to allow gas exploration and excavation in the 19m-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Republicans see the plan as paving the way for other environmentally controversial projects such as drilling off Florida or California.
The senate voted 51-49 on an obscure budget amendment and ended a twenty year struggle between the oil companies and environmentalists. John Kerry called it "a Republican sneak attack on one of our most treasured natural wonders".
Some of the oil companies and their supporters allege that the environmental impact will be negligible in comparison to the economic gain. Senator Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) alleges that the refuge could provide enough fuel to "replace all of our imports from Saudi Arabia for 25 years", while Senator Larry Craig (Idaho) rather optimistically advises "there will not be any damage to the environment and that is a fact."
Unfortunately, neither argument holds water.
The US Geological Survey estimates there could be anywhere between 5.6 billion and 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil in Alaska. The U.S uses 20 billion barrels a year. So they are unlikely to get more than 6 months worth of oil. The U.S produces about 3% of the world´s oil, and uses 25% of the world supply.
An oil development in nearby Prudhoe Bay, caused severe environmental damage. The area is now covered by industrial sprawl, thousands of miles of roads and pipelines, air strips, drilling platforms and gravel mines. The arctic refuge is currently home to 45 different species of land and marine mammals, (including endangered polar bears, grizzly bears, black bear, musk ox and caribou, arctic foxes, wolverines and snow geese). Their habitat will probably end up like Prudhoe Bay in the short period it takes to drain the resources.
Bush argues that it is necessary to reduce U.S dependence on oil from foreign powers (but of course they would never go to war in order to gain control of foreign oil wells). He tells us "demand is outracing supply, and supplies are getting tight". Well maybe you should stop blocking the uptake of sustainable energy and stop encouraging your countrymen and women to guzzle so much fuel, George!
The US government expects $2.5bn in revenue from oil leases and taxes from the site.