Over almost 30 years, numerous bills to open ANWR have passed either the House or the Senate, and in one case, both bodies passed the bill, only to have it be vetoed by President Clinton. President Obama has stood firmly on the side of the anti-energy environmentalists against opening ANWR – the same ones who forced him to keep studying the Keystone XL pipeline to death – and therefore no one has expected any bill that might pass the House to be given a vote in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid decides what gets on the Senate calendar after getting his marching orders from President Obama. Part of the argument over ANWR has been over how much oil and gas might exist there.
Over those same 30 years, the information President Reagan based his decision on has gotten older and less relevant, given today’s technology for finding and producing oil. In 1984 and 1985, when the winter government seismic assessment program took place, technology was limited to 2 dimensional images (2D) with very little clarity and interpretative value. The government’s estimate of 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil at well below today’s prices, would be worth $1 trillion or more to our economy at today’s oil prices. But the government also estimated that the total oil in ANWR was between 16 and 42 billion barrels. Any of these numbers place ANWR in the highest class of oil reserves in the world. But the story could get much, much better.
In the thirty years since those estimates, the technology in the oil and gas business has gotten spectacularly better. Computers were very limited then, but today, the likelihood of oil and gas is found using 3 dimensional (3D) and even 4 dimensional (4D) analysis which shows what might have happened to hydrocarbons underground over time. When combined with new drilling as well as interpretive computing and materials technologies which would make NASA jealous, these amazing breakthroughs are remaking the United States and North America into the energy supergiant of the world. Governor Parnell’s proposal simply asks the president to join Alaska in the search for more information for the public about what they own, using the best technologies in the world in the dead of winter on some of the most forbidding territory in the world. An area, by the way, where the indigenous Inupiat Eskimo people overwhelming support efforts to find oil and gas in their traditional lands.
The implications of such new information could be staggering. In 1995 – 10 years after the ANWR report — the government estimated that the area around the famous Bakken formation in North Dakota held 151 million barrels of recoverable oil. Their estimate today is that the area holds 7.5 billion barrels, almost 50 times as much! If new information and new technologies had the same effect in ANWR that they have had on the Bakken, that would equate to about 500 billion barrels of oil, worth $50 trillion to our economy over its development.
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