Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles ’68 is a Democrat supporting a mostly Republican cause.

At the Yale Political Union debate Tuesday, Knowles spoke about his support for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in front of a crowd of more than 130 students and community members.

Knowles, a former oil field worker, set out reasons he believes drilling can help Alaska’s economy while minimizing any potential danger to the environment.

“The enjoyment of these state and natural treasures comes with a responsibility of preservation,” Knowles said.

With new technology, Knowles said oil drilling in the refuge would have a reduced environmental impact. Knowles said the requirements for oil drilling procedures in the refuge areas would be strict and would include the dismantling of all equipment used in the drilling after the job is complete, safe transportation of the oil across Alaskan soil to avoid spills, and the restoration of the area’s protected designation once the drilling is complete.

“There are no employment opportunities in Alaska other than public service jobs,” Knowles said, citing a high unemployment rate. Knowles said that if the government allowed oil drilling and further development with the restrictions he proposed, more jobs would be created in Alaska.

“The opportunity to make a living and provide for your family is absolutely the best social program we have in the United States,” Knowles said.

After Knowles’ speech, Christine Lee ’05 said she was not surprised by Knowles’ stance on refuge oil drilling, but rather by the large percentage of conservation land in Alaska.

“I usually think of drilling in terms of the size of California’s preservation areas [which are smaller],” Lee said.

Knowles stressed the expanse of the protected land in Alaska: 19 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and 100 million acres in all.

“The amount and percent of designated conservation land in Alaska is unequaled anywhere else in the world,” Knowles said. He said the abundance of wildlife and fish as a result of conservation efforts is an “unmatched treasure.”

The refuge was first declared a conservation area in 1980, when Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act. In 1987, a Legislative Environmental Impact Statement was completed. This stated that oil development and production in a section of the refuge called Area 1002 would drastically alter the habitat availability and quality of the porcupine caribou and muskoxen while having a more moderate effect on other species in the area.

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