What Katrina really means for Arctic drilling

To the Editor:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, people from every political persuasion have addressed the “lessons” to be learned from the horrors of the storm. While the most tragic costs were the personal ones sustained by the citizens of the New Orleans area, the tremendous blow to the Gulf Coast oil supply was felt nationwide. Yet the timing of the disaster could have further tragic repercussions this week, as Congress prepares to vote on a budget that would allow for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Proponents of drilling have used the hurricane’s economic impact as evidence that we need oil from wherever we can get it, even in one of the last truly wild places in Alaska. After all, with gasoline prices shooting past the $3 mark, it seems hard to argue that the U.S. should shy away from securing additional oil.

However, one needs only to step back and look at the bigger picture to see the inherent problem with this reasoning. An economy less wedded to fossil fuels would not have taken such a hard hit when its pipelines and refineries were ravaged by the hurricane. The economic damage wrought by Katrina does not demonstrate the need for more oil sources; rather, it glaringly reveals our country’s dependence on oil and the dangerous effects thereof.

From this perspective, opening the Arctic Refuge up to drilling could not be further from the right response. The oil we could obtain from the refuge — a mere six months’ worth by National Geological Survey estimations — would not repair the havoc wreaked by Katrina. It would decimate the Porcupine caribou herd, displace hundreds of migratory birds, ruin one of the last habitats where polar bears can den and disrupt the subsistence lifestyle of the Gwichin people. Most importantly, though, opening up the Arctic would set a precedent for allowing drilling in virtually any formerly protected area, further spoiling the landscape and increasing our country’s addiction to oil. As the devastation of the past few weeks demonstrates, this dependence is a major weakness of our economy.

Many have argued that the U.S. government should have been better prepared to adequately respond to the hurricane. While we can’t change the way Katrina was handled, we can take steps now to ensure better preparedness for future disasters. The truly appropriate response to Katrina — and the best safeguard against similar crises — is a new energy policy based not on fossil fuels, but on renewable sources that are cleaner, safer and ultimately cheaper. Drilling in the Arctic Refuge thus represents a major step backward not only environmentally, but also economically.

Erica Larsen ’07

Sept. 17, 2005

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