ANWR Morass Redux

The latest round of statements about drilling for oil under the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) are finally getting a bit more rational.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said Monday he would consider tapping oil from Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by drilling outside its boundaries if it can be shown that the refuge’s wildlife and environment will remain undisturbed.

But Salazar emphasized that the Obama administration stands firm that the Alaska refuge, known as ANWR, “is a very special place” that must be protected and that he is not yet convinced directional drilling would meet that test.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, has introduced legislation that would allow companies access to oil beneath the Arctic refuge’s coastal plain through directional drilling from outside the refuge itself. Murkowski contends such drilling would leave the refuge surface land undisturbed, protecting wildlife.

OK, so Salazar is opening the door–you can drill the oil if doing so will leave the wildlife and environment “undistrubed.” I think unharmed is a more rational standard than undisturbed. And Murkowski is also obviously opening the door a bit, but clings to the bit more unreasonable “leave the refuge surface land undisturbed, protecting wildlife.”

You don’t have to leave the land undisturbed to protect wildlife. Habitat can be both more delicate and more resilient than people think. What actions in a given area will actually harm habitat and wildlife is an empirical question. The door Salazar and Murkowski are opening hear needs to be a bit wider, to allow a rational look at if there are ways to extract the oil under ANWR without doing harm to the habitat there, a rational look based on objective measures and science.

Such approaches are commonplace on lands held by private conservation groups. In Reason’s Policy Brief Digging Our Way Out of the ANWR Morass, Michael DeAlessi laid out how it might work in ANWR

If drilling in the ANWR must meet a set of environmental performance measures, then industry can use them as a basis to plan its operations, and environmental groups will have not only the assurance that a certain level of environmental protection will be met, but the leverage to hold industry and government to those standards.

. . .

It is time for the ANWR debate to move forward and leave the bickering behind. Uncertainties over just how many barrels of oil will be recovered or what new technologies may allow will never be resolved. We do, however, have the management/performance tools and the guiding principles of ENLIBRA to work with to ensure that whatever development does take place is done so in an environmentally responsible manner.

Some Possible Performance Measures for ANWR (and other public lands)

Many performance measures are site specific, and the following list is very much a work in progress.
ââ?? Increases or decreases in specific species population numbers over time; likely species include porcupine caribou, musk ox, grizzly bears, wolves, and many species of birds;
ââ?? Well-defined recovery targets for these species, such as minimum population size over a specific area;
ââ?? Increases or decreases in other species that may be common or unthreatened, but which are often good indicators of overall ecological health;
ââ?? Increases or decreases in acreage of specific wildlife habitat types;
ââ?? Increases or decreases in invasive species over a specific area;
ââ?? Specific measures of water quality such as parts per million of nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen;
ââ?? Specific measures of pollution releases; and
ââ?? Percentages of targeted habitat that meets specific criteria for ecological health.

Adrian Moore

Adrian Moore, Ph.D., is vice president of policy at Reason Foundation, a non-profit think tank advancing free minds and free markets. Moore leads Reason's policy implementation efforts and conducts his own research on topics such as privatization, government and regulatory reform, air quality, transportation and urban growth, prisons and utilities.

Moore, who has testified before Congress on several occasions, regularly advises federal, state and local officials on ways to streamline government and reduce costs.

In 2008 and 2009, Moore served on Congress' National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission. The commission offered "specific recommendations for increasing investment in transportation infrastructure while at the same time moving the Federal Government away from reliance on motor fuel taxes toward more direct fees charged to transportation infrastructure users." Since 2009 he has served on California's Public Infrastructure Advisory Commission.

Mr. Moore is co-author of the book Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry said, "Speaking from our experiences in Texas, Sam Staley and Adrian Moore get it right in Mobility First." World Bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

Moore is also co-author of Curb Rights: A Foundation for Free Enterprise in Urban Transit, published in 1997 by the Brookings Institution Press, as well as dozens of policy studies. His work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, Houston Chronicle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Orange County Register, as well as in, Public Policy and Management, Transportation Research Part A, Urban Affairs Review, Economic Affairs, and numerous other publications.

In 2002, Moore was awarded a World Outsourcing Achievement Award by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Michael F. Corbett & Associates Ltd. for his work showing governments how to use public-private partnerships and the private sector to save taxpayer money and improve the efficiency of their agencies.

Prior to joining Reason, Moore served 10 years in the Army on active duty and reserves. As an noncommissioned officer he was accepted to Officers Candidate School and commissioned as an Infantry officer. He served in posts in the United States and Germany and left the military as a Captain after commanding a Heavy Material Supply company.

Mr. Moore earned a Ph.D. in Economics from the University of California, Irvine. He holds a Master's in Economics from the University of California, Irvine and a Master's in History from California State University, Chico.