Energy strategy plans include Alaska drilling

November 22, 1990|By Peter Honey | Peter Honey,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- Tapping oil and gas deposits in the last untouched wilderness in Alaska is one of more than 60 proposals that government planners will give to President Bush when they submit the framework for a national energy strategy, probably early next month.

Other proposals include tax credits for alternative fuels, enhanced incentives for renewable energy and ways to boost vehicle efficiency, particularly in public transportation, according to officials at the Department of Energy.

The strategy draft, though, does not appear to encourage nuclear power as the best alternative to fossil-based power production as long as "political and regulatory" problems such as waste disposal remain unresolved, a senior policy planner said.

The international problem of global warming is addressed only indirectly in the policy proposal, reflecting the administration's ongoing belief that any large-scale effort to reduce emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide solely for the sake of slowing global warming would be economically wasteful.

It is an issue likely to grow in magnitude as Washington prepares to host the start next February of negotiations for an international treaty to reduce global warming.

The Persian Gulf crisis has heightened the clamor for a national energy strategy, shattering the general complacency that existed in the cheap-oil days of mid-1989, when President Bush asked the agency to compile an environmentally safe and economically sound set of options "to reduce dependence by ourselves and our friends and allies on potentially unreliable energy suppliers."

In the 16 months since then, the Energy Department has held 18 public hearings around the country and compiled 22,000 pages of testimony that originally presented about 750 policy options. With the project nearing completion, agency planners say they have percolated the mass of material into a menu of just over 60 options for the president.

But whichever proposals he accepts or rejects, it appeared from discussions with department officials this week that the eventual policy is bound to draw protests from both environmentalists and industry.

There will be no easy fixes, said Linda Stuntz, the agency's deputy undersecretary for policy, planning and analysis.

The energy strategy, she said, would try to stimulate production, efficiency and conservation in the electricity sector, building industry and especially transportation, the primary user of oil. Vehicles currently require more oil for gasoline than can be produced domestically and are therefore a major reason why the United States must import more than half its oil, she said.

But because many regulatory limits and incentives to stimulate alternative energy supplies are contained in existing legislation, further regulation in that area is not needed, Mrs. Stuntz said. For example, stiff emission controls in the recently passed Clean Air Act should reduce carbon dioxide emissions and stimulate alternative fuels such as ethanol, methanol and even electric power.

Natural gas, alcohol fuels, even hydrogen as a long-term option would be encouraged in the energy proposals. "There are no golden bullets," she said.

The strategy, however, would not be able to escape an overwhelming reliance on oil, she said, and because the United States cannot meet its expanding energy needs with domestic oil supplies, oil imports are likely to rise.

"We are not saying we should reduce imports of oil -- only reduce the vulnerability of our foreign supplies," she said.

One option contained in the national energy strategy proposal to reduce foreign dependence, she said, is to open for exploration and extraction oil deposits in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska's last undeveloped wilderness.

The refuge in northeastern Alaska has been off-limits to exploration since Congress passed a protective bill in 1980. In 1987, however, the Interior Department decided that the benefits from oil extraction in the refuge outweighed its pristine status. A bill that would have authorized exploitation of the refuge deposits died in Congress last year amid public outrage over the Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska's southern coast.

Any decision to open the refuge to drilling is likely to draw heated resistance from environmentalists, who say the estimated 3 billion to 9 billion barrels that could be extracted would amount to no more than one to three years of U.S. oil use.

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