October 5, 2001
Economist Suggests Looking At Environmental Organizations Actions Rather than Rhetoric in Deciding ANWR Oil Exploration Issue
OAKLAND, Calif. - Prompted by new concerns about Americas reliance on oil imports from the Middle East, many are revisiting the issue over whether to allow oil exploration in Alaskas Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In response, many environmental groups, most notably the Audubon Society, have renewed their strong opposition to drilling in the ANWR.
In the fall 2001 issue of THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Professor Dwight R. Lee argues that if environmentalists owned ANWR, they would probably allow drilling, with the proceeds helping to further their mission of conservation. The Independent Institute shares the following excerpts from Lees article To Drill or Not to Drill: Let the Environmentalists Decide:
*[T]he Audubon Society owns the Rainey Wildlife Sanctuary, a 26,000-acre preserve in Louisiana. . . . [It] has allowed thirty-seven wells to pump gas and oil from the Rainey Sanctuary. In return, it has received royalties of more than $25 million. . . . One should not conclude that the Audubon Society has acted hypocritically by putting crass monetary considerations above its stated concerns for protecting wilderness and wildlife. (pp. 218-19)
*Because of private ownership . . . the Society has a strong incentive to consider the benefits as well as the costs of drilling on its property. Certainly, environmental risks exist, and the society considers them, but it also responsibly weighs the costs of those risks against the benefits as measured by the income derived from drilling. Obviously, the Audubon Society appraises the benefits from drilling as greater than the costs, and it acts in accordance with that appraisal. (p. 219)
*[T]he Nature Conservancy of Texas owns the Galveston Bay Prairie Preserve in Texas City, a 2,263-acre refuge that is home to the Attwaters prairie chicken, a highly endangered species. The conservancy has entered into an agreement . . . to drill for oil and natural gas in the preserve. (pp. 220-21)
*[E]nvironmentalists would immediately see the advantages of drilling in ANWR if they were responsible for both the costs and the benefits of that drilling. . . . The environmentalists might easily conclude that although ANWR is an environmental treasure, other environmental treasures in other parts of the country (or the world) are more valuable; moreover, with just a portion of the petroleum value of the ANWR, efforts might be made to reduce the risk to other natural habitats, more than compensating for the risks to the Arctic wilderness associated with recovering that value. (p. 221)
*Environmentalists are concerned about protecting wildlife and wilderness areas in which they have ownership interest, but the debate over any threat from drilling and development in those areas is far more productive and less acrimonious than in the case of ANWR and other publicly owned wilderness areas. (p. 222)
*[C]onsider seriously what [an environmental group] would do if it owned ANWR and therefore bore the costs as well as enjoyed the benefits of preventing drilling. . . . [T]he willingness of environmental groups such as the Audubon Society. . . .to allow drilling for oil on environmentally sensitive land they own suggests strongly that their adamant verbal opposition to drilling in ANWR is a poor reflection of what they would do if they owned even a small fraction of the ANWR territory containing oil. (p. 224)
Read Dwight R. Lees article in THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Vol. VI, No. 2, To Drill or Not to Drill: Let the Environmentalists Decide.