Jason Chaffetz

After visiting Alaska's oil reserves this week, Utah Republican congressional candidate Jason Chaffetz said Democratic inaction has landed the country in its current energy dilemma.

Chaffetz spent most of this week in Alaska to become familiar with a domestic resource that Democrats have historically refused to tap — oil reserves in the federally protected Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Reached by phone Thursday in Anchorage, Alaska, Chaffetz identified what he sees as the cause, and solution, to escalating energy prices.

"There's no doubt that Democrats are the problem. We've done what they've suggested, and look at the results — since (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi took over, gas prices have doubled," Chaffetz said. "Energy is our most pressing need — and ANWR appears to be part of the solution."

Chaffetz, along with six other Republican congressional candidates — none of them incumbents — toured the wildlife refuge and met with Alaskans in Kaktovik, Prudhoe Bay and Point Barrow. He said utilizing the resources in ANWR is just a part of a bigger plan necessary to bring new, and more affordable, energy on-line.

"We have to explore every facet of development that's available — wind, solar, hydro, nuclear — we have to move forward on all fronts," Chaffetz said.

Chaffetz sees some of those new energy sources originating in Utah. He cited things such as oil shale, nuclear power, and renewable sources such as wind, as opportunities within the state.

Chaffetz's 3rd District opponent, Democrat Bennion Spencer, discounts the efficacy of ANWR resources as either a short- or long-term fix to energy costs. He said he would prefer oil companies look their current unused energy leases.

"I disagree with drilling in ANWR right now," Spencer said. "Oil companies currently hold leases on over 60 million acres of public land — let's find out why they're not using them."

Spencer said pushing companies to make use of resources within these leases would have a much shorter development time frame. On the other hand, ANWR oil, if made available to developers today, would not show production for 10 years.

The trip was arranged by Arctic Power, an Alaskan lobbying group that advocates for ANWR development, although it did not pay for it. Chaffetz said he covered the expenses through his campaign fund.

Roger Herrera, a petroleum geologist and spokesman for Arctic Power, said there are a wide range of misconceptions about the refuge and what impact petroleum development would have on the protected land. The debate, which started 30-plus years ago, often discounts that only about 8 percent of the 20 million-acre ANWR is being considered and that regulations are already among the most stringent in the world.

Another misconception is the opinions of state residents.

"People think Alaskans are opposed to this issue," Herrera said. "Nothing could be farther from the truth — (Alaskans) are consistently at least 75 percent in favor — and include our governor and lieutenant governor."

Lawson LeGate, Southwest representative for the Sierra Club, said it was just an "election-year gimmick" to depict ANWR resources as a viable alternative to bringing down gas prices.

"Even our own Department of Energy, a Republican-controlled Department of Energy, has said utilizing resources in ANWR will not make an appreciable difference in prices," LeGate said. "Drilling in the Arctic, even with 20 years of production, would change prices very little."

LeGate said the solution to achieving independence from foreign oil was reducing dependence on oil, period. The U.S. petroleum reserves only account for 3 percent of global supplies, yet the U.S. consumes 25 percent of the world's oil.

"Do the math," LeGate said. "There are smarter, more-efficient ways to address the issues — all these proposals (for domestic oil development,) in the end, enrich big oil companies, who are already making obscene profits."

Videos of the visit can be watched/viewed on www.anwr.org.


E-mail: araymond@desnews.com