ANWR, Oil and "60 Minutes"


Date: May 22, 2001

BACKGROUND: CBS's "60 Minutes" program has aired a segment on the proposed exploration for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. The segment, done by Leslie Stahl, was surprisingly objective, pitting the pro-drilling views of Alaska's Democratic Governor Tony Knowles and Ken Boyd, the state's former Director of the Division of Gas and Oil against the admittedly anti-development views of Deborah Williams of the Alaska Conservation Foundation. However, the program did get a few facts wrong.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: CBS should be commended for taking a reasonable and objective view on the issue of oil exploration in the Alaska National Wildlife refuge. They missed on a few facts but, by and large, did a good job.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: Leslie Stahl and CBS should be commended for taking a balanced look at the issue of oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. We can recover oil from ANWR in an environmentally responsible way. We proved that in Prudhoe Bay, where the Caribou herd has now grown to record proportions. And, as Stahl reported, new drilling techniques are much more environment-friendly than those used back then. We are facing a genuine energy crisis which is, even now, beginning to take its toll on our economy and put Americans out of work. Instead of spreading unfounded environmental fears, we should, as Governor Knowles said, "let science be the guide" on drilling.

DISCUSSION: The CBS program introduced a debate as to whether there are 3 billion barrels of oil recoverable in ANWR, as environmentalists claim ,or 16 billion barrels, as the industry says. The Energy Information Agency says there is a virtual certainty of 5.7 billion barrels and a possibility of 16 billion barrels, with 10.3 billion barrels being the expected amount of recoverable oil. 
Ms. Stahl claimed that, in ANWR's coastal plain, "one and a half million acres are vulnerable to future exploration." While technically true, any exploration would require an Act of Congress and only 2,000 of ANWR's 19.5 million acres are under consideration for drilling, thanks to modern drilling techniques, described on the program. 
Ms. Stahl said, looking at the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay, "it ain't wilderness any more." Actually, as far as the wildlife is concerned, it's just fine. (For photos of the area's caribou herd (whose size is at an all-time high) migrating through Prudhoe Bay oil fields and bear walking on the pipeline, go to and click on "Photo Gallery.")  
Ms. Stahl, after questioning Ms. Williams of the Alaska Conservation Foundation about which wildlife safeguards she would require to agree with drilling, said to Williams, "I'm beginning to figure out that there really isn't anything that would satisfy you." Williams replied, "No." 
Williams, and other environmentalists, are apparently unwilling to, as Governor Knowles suggested, "let science be the guide."  

by Tom Randall, Director of Environmental & Regulatory Affairs, The National Center for Public Policy Research

Contact the author at: 773-857-5086 or
The National Center for Public Policy Research, Chicago office
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