Another disinformation campaign: ANWR
- Read it and weep.........
Two Thousand Acres
March 1, 2002
By PAUL KRUGMAN
According to my calculations, my work space occupies only a
few square inches of office floor. You may find this
implausible, but I'm using a well-accepted methodology.
Well accepted, that is, among supporters of oil drilling in
the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Last week Interior Secretary Gale Norton repeated the
standard response to concerns about extensive oil
development in one of America's last wild places: "The
impact will be limited to just 2,000 out of 1.9 million
acres of the refuge." That number comes from the House
version of the Bush-Cheney energy plan, which promises that
"surface acreage covered by production and support
facilities" will not exceed 2,000 acres. It's a reassuring
picture: a tiny enclave of development, practically lost in
the Arctic vastness.
But that picture is a fraud. Development won't be limited
to a small enclave: according to the U.S. Geological
Survey, oil in ANWR is scattered in many separate pools, so
drilling rigs would be spread all across the coastal plain.
The roads linking those rigs aren't part of the 2,000
acres: they're not "production and support facilities." And
"surface acreage covered" is very narrowly defined: if a
pipeline snakes across the terrain on a series of posts,
only the ground on which those posts rest counts; bare
ground under the pipeline isn't considered "covered."
Now you see how I work in such a small space. By those
definitions, my "impact" is limited to floor areas that
literally have stuff resting on them: the bottoms of the
legs on my desk and chair, and the soles of my shoes. The
rest of my office floor is pristine wilderness.
There's a lesson here that goes well beyond the impact of
oil drilling on caribou. Deceptive advertising pervades the
administration's effort to sell the nation on its
drill-and-burn energy strategy. In fact, those of us
following this issue can't see why people made such a fuss
about the Pentagon's plan to disseminate false information.
How would that differ from current policy?
Remember that this latest push to open up ANWR for drilling
follows on the heels of an attempt to portray a plan to do
nothing much about global warming as a major policy
initiative. What else has the administration said about its
energy plans that isn't true?
Top of the list, surely, is the claim that drilling in ANWR
is a national security issue, the key to ending our
dependence on imported oil. In fact, the Energy Information
Administration's preferred scenario says that even a decade
after development begins, ANWR will produce only between
600,000 and 900,000 barrels of oil a day - a small fraction
of the 11 million barrels we currently import.
Then there's the absurd claim that ANWR drilling will
create hundreds of thousands of jobs - a claim based on a
decade-old study by, you guessed it, the oil industry's
But the most nefarious aspect of the administration's
energy propaganda is its persistent effort to link energy
shortages to environmentalism - an effort that, it's now
clear, has often been consciously dishonest.
For example, last spring Dick Cheney lamented the fact that
the U.S. hadn't built any new oil refineries since the
1970's, linking that lack of construction to environmental
restrictions. I wrote a column last May pointing out that
environmentalism had nothing to do with it, that refineries
hadn't been built because the industry had excess capacity.
What I didn't know was that several weeks earlier staffers
at the Environmental Protection Agency had written a
scathing critique of Mr. Cheney's draft energy report,
making exactly the same point. The final version of the
report, by the way, doesn't say in so many words that
clean-air rules cause gasoline shortages - but it conveys
that impression by innuendo.
For now, it's possible for diligent citizens to cut through
these deceptions - for example, you can read on the Web
what the U.S. Geological Survey actually has to say about
oil reserves in the Arctic. But I keep wondering when the
administration will shut down those Web sites. After all,
under John Ashcroft's new rules, agencies are no longer
instructed to release information whenever possible;
they're supposed to refuse requests to release information
whenever there's a legal basis for doing so. And honest
assessments of oil reserves in environmentally sensitive
locations might be useful to terrorists - you never know.