Recently in my Energy Law class, we debated the pros and cons of opening up the Artic National Wildlife Range (ANWR) to oil drilling. There are a number of emotional and economic platforms on which this issue can be argued – however, I’m interested in the argument that drilling in this region would be a boost for national security. Proponents of this argument refer to the fact that we import 2/3 of our oil from other countries (some unstable or unfriendly like Nigeria and Venezuela respectively). So, on one level, by offsetting the oil that we would import, we would temporarily be not as dependent on other nations. I would assume that proponents of this line of thinking would then argue that during this time the US could continue efforts to develop alternative energies that would then displace our need for oil by the time the ANWR oil is depleted. Thus, drilling in this region is a temporary ‘band aid’ to the problem.
I have two problems with this perspective. First, by drilling and using our own natural resources, wouldn’t we be more dependent on other (imported) oil in the future? This would assume that we won’t have a robust alternative energy solution in place when the ANWR oil is depleted. This brings me to my second problem. The oil marketplace is currently constrained - basic laws of economics (supply and demand) have forced higher oil prices in the past few years (although there are other factors impacting oil prices). However, if we were to increase the oil supply by drilling in the ANWR region, oil prices would likely fall (although there isn’t any way to determine what the future price would be). I would argue that constrained oil supply and thus higher oil prices had been one of the main drivers of changing US policy to have more of a focus on alternative energy development. The likelihood of getting the alternative energy policy that have been passed in the last few years in a $1.50-$2/gallon (gasoline) environment is low. Thus, although higher oil prices do hurt the larger economy, perhaps higher prices do have the advantage of advancing the cause of alternative energies. Going back to the original problem, since developing alternative energy is the best method to better our national security (by not being dependent on foreign oil), perhaps the best avenue to achieve this goal is by not drilling in ANWR.