A major energy crisis looms large over our nation's future. Rolling blackouts and steeply spiked gasoline prices earlier this year served as flashing red lights on America's dashboard. Unless new energy sources are developed on U.S. soil, we will become even more dependent on overseas oil-producing countries — and more vulnerable to further economic attack on our way of life.

Research shows that 68% of all undiscovered U.S. oil resources and 74% of undiscovered natural gas resources are contained on federal land. Yet environmental groups, which have the ear of powerful legislators in state capitals and Congress, oppose exploration of these resources.

The facts tell the story. Even with conservation practices operating in full swing over the next 20 years, U.S. natural gas consumption is expected to grow by more than 50%, while domestic production will increase only 14%. Domestic oil production will decline by 1.5-million barrels a day in the next 20 years, while demand will increase by 6-million barrels a day.

Imports of crude oil and refined products cost the nation $100-billion a year, and remain the largest single commodity in our balance-of-trade deficit. This makes the politics of oil even more dangerous in light of the terrorist attacks on September 11.

Conservation and efficiency practices are important components of a public energy policy. In fact, carbon-dioxide emissions from energy sources increased barely a trace between 1997 and 1998, despite economic growth of 3.9%.

California's energy crisis this year was mitigated in great part because residents and businesses used 11% less electricity this May than they did in May 2000. But neither California nor the rest of the country can conserve its way out of what is almost certainly a huge energy crisis ahead. This requires a strategic goal of being “oil independent” in less than ten years.

A good start would be the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Drilling would be limited to less than 2,000 acres. Alaska has nearly 57-million acres designated as wilderness. Within the 19.6-million acres of ANWR, 8-million acres are designated as wilderness; only 1.5-million acres are set aside for oil exploration. Of this, again, only 2,000 acres would be used for production.

ANWR production could replace imports of Saudi oil over 30 years. The U.S. could save $14-billion a year on imports alone from the oil produced at ANWR. Up to 750,000 jobs would be created.

The production area of ANWR is not pristine wilderness; it is in a community where the U.S. military operates. The impact on land and wildlife will be minimal. In fact, in the 20 years since oil exploration began in the nearby Prudhoe Bay region, the caribou herd has increased by 900%.

A survey earlier this spring found that 74% of Americans favor exploration in ANWR when informed that exploration will occur on only a tiny part. Over 75% of Alaskans support energy exploration in ANWR, including a majority of native people who live there.

Unfortunately, 55% of the American public are quite unaware of the ANWR issue and know nothing about it. Battle lines are still being drawn between those crying wolf and those ready to start drilling.

Meanwhile, red lights on America's dashboard continue blinking.




Gary Petty is president and CEO of NPTC. His column appears monthly in FLEET OWNER.