Bush likely to abandon Alaska oil

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Bush likely to abandon Alaska oil Political pressure: U.S. President calls for natural gas from Canada

Jan Cienski National Post

WASHINGTON - George W. Bush, the U.S. President, conceded yesterday that Congress is unlikely to agree to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to energy exploration and called on Canada to ship more natural gas south to save the United States from an energy shortage.

"There's gas in our hemisphere, and the fundamental question is, where's it going to come from?" Mr. Bush told a news conference. "I'd like it to be American gas, but if the Congress decides not to have exploration in ANWR, we'll work with the Canadians."

Mr. Bush began calling for oil exploration in the ANWR during last year's election campaign, saying the untapped oil and gas deposits there could reduce the United States' dependence on foreign energy imports.

The President has also linked the need for more energy to the electricity crisis in California, where a bungled deregulation scheme coupled with high natural gas prices have disrupted parts of the state with rolling blackouts.

Environmentalists pounced on the plan to explore ANWR, insisting the refuge has only enough oil to supply the United States for six months and claiming that drilling there would destroy a pristine Arctic habitat. The Canadian government has also opposed the project, arguing it would harm the Porcupine caribou herd, which migrates between Alaska and the Yukon.

The political pressure has become so intense that Congress, closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, has refused to tackle the issue despite Mr. Bush's urging.

While pledging to continue battling to open ANWR and to ask the Interior Secretary to "look at all lands that are not fully protected for exploration," Mr. Bush cast his eyes farther afield for energy.

"It's important for us to explore and encourage exploration and work with the Canadians to get pipelines coming out of the Northwest Territories to the United States," Mr. Bush said.

Canadian energy industry representatives welcomed the call from Mr. Bush for Canada to slash through the red tape that lurks before the construction of a multi-billion-dollar natural gas pipeline south from the Northwest Territories' Mackenzie Delta region.

Greg Stringham, vice-president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the industry's main lobby group, said a pipeline could be built in four to five years.

"The fact that the highest levels of the U.S. and Canadian governments are involved is a very good sign," he said.

There had been some pressure from the U.S. energy industry to first build a pipeline carrying gas from Alaska's Prudhoe Bay through the Yukon and Alberta to the United States. But Mr. Stringham said it appeared Mr. Bush was sending a signal that the United States wants energy quickly, no matter what the source.

"We've got a shortage of energy in America," said Mr. Bush, a former oil company executive. "It doesn't matter to me where the gas comes from, in the long run, so long as we increase supply of natural gas."

Canada supplies about 14% of the United States' natural gas, a figure that is unlikely to change over the next few years, Mr. Stringham said.

Mr. Bush made his call for increased natural gas imports on the same day he reiterated his opposition to the Kyoto global warming accord, arguing it was too expensive for the United States to implement. Instead, he said, clean-burning natural gas could help the United States maintain its standard of living while polluting less.

"Gas is clean, and yet there's not enough of it," he said.

"We've got to plan to make sure that gas flows freely out of Canada into the United States."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), March 31, 2001

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