WASHINGTON Opening an Alaska wildlife refuge to oil development would only slightly reduce America's dependence on imports and would lower oil prices by less than 50 cents a barrel, said an Energy Department analysis released Tuesday.
The report by the Energy Information Administration said that if Congress gave the go-ahead to pump oil from Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the crude could begin flowing by 2013 and reach a peak of 876,000 barrels a day by 2025.
But even at peak production, said the EIA analysis, the United States would still have to import two-thirds of its oil, as opposed to an expected 70 percent if the refuge's oil remains off the market.
At the same time, the report said that new Alaska production would stem the expected dramatic decline in domestic production and extend the economic life of the Alaska oil pipeline as production from other North Slope areas declines significantly.
But even the additional domestic production would not be enough to overcome increased demand, meaning continued heavy reliance on imports, said the EIA. Currently the United States imports about 56 percent of the oil it consumes.
Congress has grappled for years over whether to allow oil companies access to the Alaska refuge's 1.5 million acre coastal plain, which is believed by geologists to harbor about 10.4 billion barrels of crude.
Last year the House, citing the need for more domestic oil to ease the reliance on imports, gave a green light to drilling in the refuge, but the Senate refused to go along.
Many Senate Democrats, joined by a handful of moderate Republicans, repeatedly have blocked pro-drilling legislation, arguing the refuge would be harmed ecologically. The coastal plain includes calving areas for caribou and is home to polar bears and other wildlife, as well as a stopover for an annual migration of millions of birds.
Both sides in the ANWR issue likely will use the latest EIA report as ammunition in the next round of debate over energy legislation in Congress.
Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., chairman of the House Resources Committee, on Tuesday seized on the finding that ANWR development would boost domestic oil production by 20 percent over what it otherwise would be in 2025.
''Given America's energy crunch ANWR production is a must,'' Pombo, who requested the EIA analysis, said in a statement.
But environmentalists said the findings debunk arguments pushed by the Bush administration and other pro-drilling advocates that the refuge is important for national security and economic independence.
''It underscores what we've been saying all along, that oil drilling in the refuge would do next to nothing to actually meet America's energy needs. ... We're still going to be reliant, if not more reliant, on foreign sources of oil,'' said Justin Tatham of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an environmental organization active in protecting the refuge from development.
The EIA study also noted the importance of ANWR's oil to Alaska.
Without the refuge's development, oil flowing from the North Slope will fall to 500,000 barrels a day half of current levels by 2025, and approach levels where the pipeline may no longer be economical to operate, the report said.
U.S. domestic oil production will increase over the next four years from the current 5.7 million barrels a day to 6.1 million barrels a day, largely because of additional oil coming from the Gulf of Mexico, according to the EIA report.
But after that, domestic production declines steadily without access to the ANWR coastal plain, and is expected to fall to 4.6 million barrels a day by 2025. With demand increasing, imports will continue to play a larger role, jumping from 9.7 million barrels a day to nearly 16 million barrels a day, roughly 70 percent of what is consumed by 2025.
With ANWR's 876,000 barrels a day, the reliance on imports would drop to 66 percent of domestic consumption, said the EIA analysis. And the study said it would likely have little impact on world oil prices perhaps reducing the price by 30 to 50 cents a barrel if prices were in the $27 a barrel range.
The price of light sweet crude was $37.48 per barrel on Tuesday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
James Kendell, one of the authors of the study, said the refuge would add to domestic production but ''when you're talking of a world oil market of over 75 million barrels a day, adding 900,000 barrels by 2025 is a drop in the bucket.''
No one is certain how much oil is beneath the ANWR coastal plain. In assuming 876,000 barrel a day production, the EIA assumed the ''mean'' estimate provided by geologists of 10.4 billion barrels of technically recoverable reserves. Geologists say there could be less or much more. Environmentalists argue that much of that oil may not be economically recoverable if oil prices decline.
On the Net
Energy Information Administration: www.eia.doe.gov
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.