This article first appeared in the Post and Courier.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is in danger — and that should matter to every American who loves the outdoors, enjoys hunting or cares about protecting one of our last wild frontiers.
In the next few days, the U.S. Senate will vote on a budget that struggles to whittle down the federal deficit and pay for proposed tax cuts. This budget proposes to finance up to $1.8 billion of those costs by opening the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas production.
Here’s what is at risk. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the nesting ground for millions of birds and waterfowl that live in or pass through every one of the lower 48 states, as well as six continents. It supports the largest caribou land migration on earth. It is a haven for polar bears whose very existence is threatened and is home to the Gwich’in Alaskan Natives who depend on the refuge for their survival and revere it as a sacred place.
This is not about banning drilling in the Arctic. There are plenty of other places where drilling is already allowed in the Arctic. This is about destroying one of the most pristine landscapes in our country for oil and gas we don’t need.
We are in the midst of a global oil glut. Prices have plunged. The U.S. is producing so much oil and gas that we are exporting to foreign countries.
But there’s an even bigger argument against this ill-advised effort. I love to hunt, and I appreciate the importance of the world’s largest waterfowl nursery to maintaining the population of game birds. I also am a business professor at the College of Charleston. I’ve spent my career studying numbers. And in this case, the numbers don’t add up.
The budget now on the table in Congress assumes that oil company leases in the Arctic Refuge will generate $1.8 billion in revenues for the federal treasury.
To reach that target, companies will have to bid at least $2,400 for every single acre of the 1.5 million acres on the refuge’s fragile Coastal Plain—the area the White House has designated for drilling.
Each year, land in Alaska that is already open to oil and gas production is put out for lease. Last year, Alaska state officials were ecstatic when leases in the North Slope area near the refuge totaled $17.9 million, according to official Alaska state records. The average highest price per acre bid? Just $28.17, about 1 percent of what is needed to hit the $1.8 billion revenue promise. This hardly sounds like a path to cutting the federal budget or financing tax cuts.
This budget also is based on an assumption that companies will bid on every single one of those 1.5 million acres they plan to offer inside the Arctic Refuge. But consider Alaska’s track record: Between 2010 and 2015, industry bid on a mere 1.5 percent to 5.5 percent of the acreage offered in one large area, the National Petroleum Reserve–Alaska. Last year, which was praised as banner year, companies bid on only 42 percent of the acres offered.
This is not a partisan issue. I am an executive officer in both the South Carolina GOP and the Charleston County GOP. A Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower, established the first protections for the National Arctic Wildlife Refuge in 1960. It has enjoyed bipartisan support ever since.
I call on my fellow Republicans and Democrats alike in the Senate to save the Artic Refuge from irreparable destruction. We don’t need the oil and gas. The numbers don’t add up. Protect this national treasure for our children and our grandchildren.