DALLAS, April 2 (UPI) -- Supporters of the House-passed energy bill said Tuesday that drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is critical to increasing U.S. domestic oil production and strengthening homeland security.
In rally with Teamsters members, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and Teamsters officials urged the Senate to pass the bill, which includes controversial exploratory drilling on the pristine refuge.
"We believe Republicans and Democrats were right in the House when they passed a bill that included drilling in Alaska in an area about the size of a major city airport, out of a region about the size of South Carolina," the energy secretary said.
Abraham and Hutchison said since Sept. 11 energy has become an issue of national security and nation must reduce its dependence on foreign oil. About 60 percent of the nation's oil comes foreign countries.
"We cannot have homeland security if we don't control the stability of oil and gas prices in our country," Hutchison said. "In the last two weeks alone the price of gasoline has increased 14 cents. Now everyone of you who are driving trucks know what that does to the bottom line."
About 50 teamsters were gathered on a platform with Abraham and Hutchison as they spoke at the Yellow Transportation truck terminal in Dallas. The union is a strong supporter of the energy bill that comes up for debate next week in the Senate.
Tyson Johnson, vice president of the Teamsters southern region, expressed concern that the United States is so dependent on foreign oil, especially from the Middle East. He said any energy bill must include drilling in ANWAR to increase domestic production.
"We need a bill that would provide more than solar panels, lower thermostats and walking rather than driving," he said.
At a news conference, Abraham and Hutchison were asked about the report Friday of the U.S. Geological Survey that warned drilling in the refuge might cause harm to populations of caribou, musk oxen, and polar bears who range through the area.
Hutchison and Abraham said the study was based on old technology and did not take into account the new methods of drilling that reduce harm to the environment.
"It assumes the old kind of technology in drilling and it is not in any way relevant to what we would do, which is limit the drilling to 2,000 acres in the entire ANWAR, which is size of South Carolina," Hutchison said.
Abraham pointed out that the USGS study looked at several scenarios of development on the refuge. He said the energy bill's proposed drilling area is much smaller then 1.5 million acres in the report's worst case scenario and the impact would be negligible.
In an interview later, Adam Kolton, arctic campaign director for the Alaska Wilderness League, said the energy bill promoted by Abraham would fall far short of what he wants to achieve in energy independence.
"The U.S. has less than 3 percent of the world's oil reserves so we could drill every national park and wildlife refuge and coastline and still be importing more than half of our oil," he said.
Kolton said 95 percent of Alaska's north slope is already available for oil exploration and environmentalists are only trying to save the remaining 5 percent. He said others in the oil industry believe there is more opportunity in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico.
"We need a farsighted plan that truly reduces our dependence not just on imported oil, but on oil, and that is not what we are getting from this secretary of energy or this administration," he said.
Kolton defended the USGS study and noted that despite modern technology there are still 400 spills a year on the northern slope of Alaska.
"It would be nice if Senator Hutchison and others in her role would spend a little bit more time worrying about environmental oversight of the north slope oil fields and places companies are not being responsible instead of promoting a questionable scheme that doesn't have science behind it," he said.