Some 250 miles north of the Arctic Circle Sunday, ten of my House Republican colleagues and I completed an American energy tour focused on real solutions to help lower gasoline prices and energy costs for families and small businesses. Our trip started Friday with a visit to Golden, Colorado, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) — a government facility operated by private-sector scientists and engineers dedicated to perfecting cutting-edge solar, wind, fuel cell, biomass, and other emerging energy technologies to reduce our nation’s costly and increasingly dangerous dependence on foreign sources of energy. The work done at NREL is important and, quite frankly, symbolic of America’s energy future. We’re getting closer, but we’re not there just yet. The challenge is building a bridge to that energy future. And that challenge brought us to Alaska.
Our visit to Alaska’s north slope, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean, was symbolic of America’s vast, existing energy resources. Those resources can be found in the coal mines of West Virginia, the natural-gas deposits far off our shores, and in the oil-rich Mountain West, Arctic coastal plain, and Outer Continental Shelf. Some of those resources we utilize today — particularly American coal. But some of them, such as the tremendous amounts of American oil and gas, remain locked away by decades of policy crafted by those who have done the bidding of the radical environmental community — and those, namely the Democrats in charge of Congress, who continue to worship at that same altar of radical environmentalism today.
Our delegation learned two key lessons on the Arctic shores — two lessons that will further embolden our fight in Congress for more production of American energy. First, and perhaps most strikingly, we learned that the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, which carries petroleum from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope 800 miles south to Valdez, on the Gulf of Alaska, is in a state of decline. Officials in Alaska warned us that in ten years, if the pipeline continues its current rate of decline in transporting oil supplies, the pipeline will be processing less than 300,000 barrels of oil per day, compared to nearly 720,000 today.
Experts agree that at that level — without adding new supplies of oil — the pipeline could not continue to operate, shutting down all production in the North Slope and turning a multi-billion dollar asset into scrap metal. It’s a “pipeline deadline,” if you will.
The reason the pipeline is in a state of decline is not due to a lack of adequate supply. Rather, it is a combination of lawsuits, time-consuming permitting processes, and the Democratic Congress’ refusal to lead that has slowed the flow of supply out of the North Slope. And nowhere is this more apparent than in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s (ANWR) “10-02 Area.” Designated by President Carter and Congress nearly 30 years ago for energy exploration and production, the 10-02 Area’s 2,000 acres (out of ANWR’s 19 million acres) contains some 10 billion barrels of oil, and possibly more, which is currently being held hostage by a Democratic leadership that is shockingly out of touch with the wishes of a large majority of Americans. Their reasoning? More often than not, they claim it is because of the pristine and wildlife-filled lands of ANWR.
That leads into our second lesson. The fact is, my colleagues and I saw plenty of wildlife on our visit to the North Slope. Caribou were abundant. We saw them running atop the permafrost in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (where Democratic leaders suddenly support drilling, by the way), roaming near the pipeline, and one even made its way onto the runway of a small airport near Prudhoe Bay just as we were about to take off for the 10-02 Area. (We were told earlier in the day that caribou have the right of way.) Musk oxen were scattered about. And we even heard that a polar bear wandered onto the Endicott petroleum production facility grounds, which sits on an island in the Arctic, during our tour.
The point is, wildlife and environmentally-safe energy production successfully coexist in the region — and it could elsewhere as well, including in the 10-02 Area. I found the sheer amount of respect energy producers have for the land and for the native Alaskan way of life — of which wildlife is a key part — to be simply remarkable. Moreover, the new technologies energy companies use to reduce the “footprint” on the environment is equally impressive. Those on the Left who cite these companies’ “insensitivity” as a reason for stonewalling more production in the region either suffer from a complete misunderstanding of the issue or are purposely twisting the facts. And either way, it’s the American people — not to mention North Slope residents who depend upon energy production for jobs — who suffer the consequences.
Increased American energy production throughout all of the North Slope — not to mention the Outer Continental Shelf and other remote government-owned lands across the country — is part of a bridge to America’s energy future. While scientists and engineers perfect emerging technologies such as those at NREL, more of our nation’s vast energy reserves must be explored in a respectful and responsible way to help bring down fuel costs.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and her liberal colleagues in the Democratic leadership are under immense pressure from the American public and from an increasing number of rank-and-file Democrats to stop fiddling and schedule a real vote on more American energy production. But what is her response? The Speaker told CNN last week that “I have no plans to do so.” House Republicans will continue this fight every single day, but let’s be clear: Only Speaker Pelosi and her liberal Democratic colleagues are standing in the way of lower gasoline prices for the American people.
– John Boehner is Republican leader of the U.S. House of Representatives.