October 3, 2000
Gore vs. Bush: Earth in the Balance?
Page 2: Political Warfare
Policy debates over energy and conservation are nothing new for the United States, of course. Over the past century, there were battles over dam construction in the West, the viability of nuclear power plants, and, during the OPEC oil embargoes of the 1970s, fuel efficiency and the need for “energy independence.”
Still, for most of the current presidential campaign, energy and environmental issues took a back seat to questions about character, taxes, education, health care and the broader strength of the U.S. economy. The jump in oil prices changed that.
Gov. Bush and other Republicans ripped the Clinton administration for not encouraging more domestic production and allegedly squandering U.S. prestige with the oil-producing states. Bush also issued veiled threats to OPEC countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, saying they should "remember who their friends are."
Bush also clarified his position in support of drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. During the primaries, Bush indicated it was an idea to be left on the table. Now, he’s openly for it.
Meanwhile, Democrats blamed the Republican-led Congress for blocking initiatives to increase fuel efficiency and reduce energy demands. In his campaign, Gore advocated a program to gradually transition the U.S. away from oil-dependent energy policies.
Environmental groups saw more hope in Gore’s approach and rewarded him with endorsements. "We cannot drill our way to solving our energy problems," said Melinda Pierce of the Sierra Club. "The U.S. sits on only 3 percent of the world's oil supply. The only path to energy independence is to become more energy efficient and reduce our demand."
Bush’s plan for drilling in the Arctic Refuge has touched another sore point with environmentalists. Alaskan oil has been a contentious issue since President Carter signed the bill establishing the Arctic Refuge in 1980.
At the time, oil industry lobbyists succeeded in keeping 95 percent of Alaska's North Slope coastal plain open for oil exploration. The refuge protected the remaining 5 percent, about 19 million acres. Gov. Bush and the oil industry now are targeting about 1.5 million acres of the protected area.
Beyond the drilling itself, extensive construction work would permanently transform the natural landscape. Oil development would require nearly 300 miles of new roads, hundreds of miles of pipelines, as well as production and refining facilities.
Environmentalists see the refuge as a land of rare natural beauty, critical for maintaining the habitat of unique wildlife, including polar bears, musk oxen, grizzly bears, wolves, red and arctic foxes, lemmings, and a myriad of other bird species. The refuge also is vitally important to the 129,000-member Porcupine River caribou herd that calls Alaska’s North Slope home. The Gwich'in Indians of northeast Alaska and northwest Canada also depend on the land.
Another objection to drilling is the limited quantity of oil. By the most optimistic estimates, commercially recoverable oil from the refuge's coastal plain would provide about six months supply for the U.S. These estimates show the refuge's oil field containing 3.2 billion barrels of oil, compared with America's annual oil consumption of 7 billion barrels. [Alaska Wilderness League and Natural Resources Defense Council]
Also complicating Gov. Bush's support for drilling in the refuge are his financial and political ties to the oil industry. For example, his campaign's two Alaska state co-chairs, Bob Malone and Bill Allen, are involved in companies with interests in Alaskan oil.
From 1995-2000, Malone served as president, chief executive and chief operating officer of the Alyeska Pipeline Services Co., a consortium owned by major oil companies active in the North Slope. Alyeska Pipeline manages the 800-mile Alaskan pipeline, which delivers more than 20 percent of America's domestic oil production. Before joining Alyeska, Malone served as president of BP Amoco's Pipelines (Alaska) Inc. [See The Public I, Feb. 28, 2000, www.public-i.org/story_16_022800.htm .]
Malone rejoined BP Amoco in July as regional president for the Western United States, an area that includes Alaska. BP Amoco is one of four major oil companies in the North Slope.
The other Bush co-chair in Alaska is Bill Allen, the chairman of VECO Corp., which was formed to support offshore oil production in Alaska. VECO now has 4,000 employees and has offices in Alaska, Colorado, Washington State, India, Cyprus and Houston. [See www.veco.com/CorpwebSite/locations/locations.html .]
[For more details on Bush’s relationship to the oil industry, see the four-part series, The Bush Family Oiligarchy.]
Halliburton Corp., the world’s largest oil services company, also has extensive investments in Alaska's North Slope. Formerly run by Republican vice presidential nominee Richard Cheney, Halliburton has provided equipment and services to BP Amoco and Atlantic Richfield Co. (ARCO) since 1995.
Halliburton is listed in the Directory of Petroleum News Alaska as having facilities in Anchorage, Deadhorse (on the North Slope), and in the Baroid and Sperry-sun fields in Prudhoe Bay. Opening up the refuge would require construction of hundreds of miles of pipelines and many facilities. Halliburton's presence in Alaska along the North Slope would position them well to compete for contracts for these construction projects.
Cheney has long advocated drilling in the refuge going back to his days as a U.S. representative from Wyoming when he co-sponsored a bill to open up the refuge to oil drilling. During the 2000 Campaign, Cheney has been as vocal as Bush in support of opening the refuge for exploration, if not more so.
On Sept. 27, Cheney headlined a fundraiser that tapped oil industry supporters to help raise $8 million for Republican Senate candidates at the sixth annual Senate Majority Celebration in Washington, D.C. Cheney joined Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in criticizing the Clinton administration’s unwillingness to explore domestic oil reserves. Among the event’s leading fundraisers were oil executives Erle Nye, chairman of TXU Corp.; William Wise, chief executive of El Paso Energy; and Lod Cook, former chairman of ARCO. [AP, Sept. 28, 2000]
The oil industry has rewarded Bush for his support by helping his campaign’s fundraising efforts. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the oil industry has lavished more than $1.6 million in contributions on Bush, 15 times more money they have contributed to Gore since January 1999.
Cheney also stands to profit personally from expectations that the Arctic Refuge will be opened to oil exploration. Cheney has announced that he will keep control of hundreds of thousands of Halliburton shares and options until the inauguration. If Bush and Cheney win on Nov. 7, the anticipated Alaskan oil development could help run up the value of Halliburton stock by Jan. 20, potentially adding millions of dollars to Cheney’s personal fortune.
Whatever the prospects for extracting oil from the Arctic Refuge, oil experts recognize that new discoveries can postpone but not prevent the eventual need to find other energy sources. While the world oil supply is far from exhausted, they say, it is a finite resource.
Many experts predict that the world will reach peak oil production sometime in the next 20 to 50 years, after which time oil supply will begin to decline. The Energy Information Agency of the U.S. Department of Energy estimates peak production to occur in 2037. [See www.eia.doe.gov/pub/oil_gas/petroleum/presentations/2000/long_term_supply/sld003.htm]
With large countries like China and India modernizing their economies more along the Western model, it is clear that energy will present a recurring challenge in the years ahead. Even with more oil production, periodic shortages will continue to threaten global economic growth.
The search for oil, the refining process and the burning of fossil fuels also seem certain to take a heavier and heavier toll on the global environment.
So, energy policy could become the surprise issue of Campaign 2000. If it does, Americans will have a choice between two very different courses of action.
Gov. Bush’s plan calls for continued reliance on old energy sources and strategies for maintaining the traditional use of fossil fuels. Vice President Gore’s approach seeks a national commitment to a less-charted course, toward new energy sources and more novel strategies aimed at reducing dependence on oil and protecting the environment.
Sam Parry is managing editor of Consortiumnews.com and works for the Sierra Club's Human Rights & the Environment Campaign.