Environmentalists are using the old adage, “Do as I Say Not as I Do,” regarding oil drilling. They are delighted that President Obama is going to ask Congress to declare 12 million acres of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as wilderness. This action is despite the fact that in 1980, Congress set aside a small portion of the acreage in ANWR (the “1002 area,” comprising the Coastal Plain) for future consideration of oil and gas exploration. But because of President Obama’s executive action, Presidential Advisor John Podesta said that regardless of the law and Congressional action, the administration was going to manage these 12 million acres as if it had been designated as wilderness by Congress, which means that ANWR will be unavailable to resource development.[i]
However, despite opposing oil drilling in ANWR, one of these environmental groups allowed oil drilling on lands that it owns, reaping sizeable revenues from its production. The National Audubon Society, who opposes oil drilling in ANWR, has allowed oil and gas drilling on its 26,000 acre Paul J. Rainy Sanctuary in Louisiana for nearly 50 years. Beginning in the 1940s, oil companies drilled 37 wells in the sanctuary, which protects important habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.[ii]
The National Audubon Society received royalties of over $25 million, which it used to buy additional land. The drilling in the Paul J. Rainy Sanctuary was performed in an environmentally safe manner, but that could also be accomplished in ANWR, if only the federal government would allow drilling there. Further, it would help the state of Alaska, whose revenues are principally supplied (85 percent) by the oil industry. While oil production is currently taking place on state lands in Alaska, the oil on state lands is being depleted and new sources of oil production are needed.
The National Audubon Society and its Oil-Derived Royalties
According to the National Audubon Society, “Drilling is a dirty and dangerous business that has historically always resulted in spills and harmed the environment.”[iii] Yet the group not only allowed an oil company to operate 13 wells in the Paul J. Rainy Sanctuary until 1999, but it is also allowing oil to be produced from its Bernard Baker Sanctuary in Michigan. In this case, the oil well is on private property near the preserve with a drill that slants into the sanctuary.[iv] For this oil, the National Audubon Society was awarded $500,000. Audubon has considered reopening the Rainy sanctuary to drilling.[v] Because of directional drilling, oil and gas can be drilled underneath the preserve with little or no impact.
Audubon’s Corkscrew Sanctuary near Naples, Florida, is an area within the Big Cypress National Preserve, and part of the larger Everglades National Park. The preserve was created to protect the natural system of water resources flowing into Everglades National Park and as a recreational area, allowing activities such as oil drilling, cattle grazing, privately owned camps, hunting and off-road vehicle use, which are not permitted in most national parks. The Miccosukee and Seminole Indians harvest cypress trees and other plant life and hold their annual Green Corn Dance in the Preserve. Several oil companies have obtained leases and want to drill and test for oil and gas beneath the Big Cypress National Preserve. Despite allowing activities that most national parks do not allow, Big Cypress has excellent water, which has been classified “outstanding Florida waters” by the State.[vi]
The Audubon Society made the oil companies comply with strict limits on drilling, including restrictions on pumping oil during bird nesting season–oil production had to cease when nesting season occurred. The Rainy refuge serves as a resting and feeding ground for over 100,000 migrating snow geese and it is home to ducks, wading birds, deer, shrimp, crab and fish. Not only has there been no measurable damage from drilling, but Audubon was able to undertake a marsh management program it could not have afforded otherwise.[vii] But, these same types of precautions can be used to produce oil from ANWR and support revenues that the state of Alaska badly needs. But, since Audubon will receive none of the benefits of drilling oil in ANWR, it has no reason to consider the development potential in ANWR.
Property rights make a difference because the owner can assess the benefits against the costs. As we see, when environmental groups bear the costs of managing their own lands, their decision making is very different than what they advocate on publicly owned lands. Audubon’s experience at Rainey, Corkscrew and Bernard Baker demonstrate the feasibility of extracting oil and natural gas from land without causing environmental harm. Not only has there been no measurable damage from drilling, but the income that Audubon earned allowed it to fund a marsh management program it could not have otherwise afforded.
The Obama Administration needs to take into consideration the benefits of oil drilling in ANWR to the state of Alaska, consumers of the oil in the lower 48 states, and keeping the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline System operational, which has oil flowing at only a fourth of its capacity due to oil depletion on Alaska’s state-owned lands, when deciding whether to allow oil drilling in the small area of ANWR that Congress set aside in 1980.
[i] Institute for Energy Research, https://www.instituteforenergyresearch.org/analysis/obamas-executive-overreach-at-it-again-this-time-its-anwr/
[ii] Reason, What Would Environmentalists Do If They Owned ANWR?, February 5, 2015, http://reason.com/archives/2015/02/05/what-would-environmentalists-do-if-they
[iv] Property and Environment Research Center, Reflections on “Saving the Wilderness,” June 1, 2010, http://perc.org/articles/reflections-saving-wilderness
[v] The Times Picayune, Audubon Society sanctuary considers allowing oil and gas drilling, January 3, 2010, http://www.nola.com/business/index.ssf/2010/01/audubon_society_sanctuary_cons.html
[vi] Audubon Wildcatters: Environmental Duplicity, http://rebirthofreason.com/Articles/Davison/Audubon_Wildcatters_Environmental_Duplicity.shtml and Earth Island Journal, Environmentalists and Citizens Concerned Over Plans to Drill for Oil in the Everglades, April 30, 2014, http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/concern_over_plans_to_drill_for_oil_in_the_everglades/
[vii] Property and Environment Research Center, PC Oil Drilling in a Wildlife Refuge, September 7, 1995, http://perc.org/articles/pc-oil-drilling-wildlife-refuge