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The Influence of Environmental Protection Groups on Gas Prices

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Over this last summer, gas prices have soared to all time highs. In some parts of the Country the price gallon of gas has risen up to three dollars a gallon. Many factors resulted in this price increase, including the recent Hurricanes such as Katrina and Rita that damaged many Gulf Refinery stations. However, these natural disasters only affect the oil economy for limited periods of time. The biggest cause for gas price increases in the rise in demand of gasoline products nationally and all over the world.

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The huge popularity of sport utility vehicles and trucks that are being produced by many automobile manufactures has helped lead to this increase in gas demand. And since the United States is an oil dependant country that imports oil from other nations, worries of this energy crisis has caused the Bush administration to press for bills to allow several oil companies to tap into the oil reserves in Northeast Alaska to help increase our supply of oil.

But this issue has been strongly debated for the past three decades with no solution. Environmental Protection groups have argued that the benefits of oil drilling in Alaska are not enough to overcome the potential environmental damage that will be caused.

There are several alternatives to gasoline that need to be researched heavily in order to find the oil replacement. And the main disagreement between the deeply divided conservation and environmentalist groups and between the current government administrations needs to be addressed and resolved. As completely siding with one opinion or the other will only complicate and slow down the process towards progress. There is much work and effort and planning that needs to happen in order to attempt in resolving these issues now and to achieve a greater accomplishment which is a nation that is not completely dependant on foreign oil but rather reliant on domestic production.

The current government administration’s answer to reducing the cost of oil is to explore new territory within the United States for oil reserves. One of those areas is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), where there are untapped reserves of oil that would increase the nation’s production of oil. These areas in Northeast Alaska are mostly wildlife lands which environmentalists fear that if oil drilling happened, these vast untouched lands will be destroyed. The drilling would create refineries and a number of pipelines that spread throughout the ANWR in addition to housing for workers changing the fairly untouched land into a spider web of oil industries. The production of oil in ANWR would definitely help lower costs of oil barrels over a short period of time because of higher oil production rates.

What worries these environmentalists is that the current administration does not have the environment and fuel alternative methods on their priority list of issues. The current Bush administration has been pressing very hard for a bill that would start drilling in the ANWR, but with no luck. According to CNN, a provision from the budget bill recently proposed allowing drilling in the ANWR was dropped in the House of Representatives, as a number of moderate Republicans decided against Bush’s plans. This came because of the extensive lobbying efforts of environmentalists against the administration’s top energy proposal. Although this marks as a victory for the environment protection groups, this will not end Bush’s efforts to pass legislation to allow drilling in Alaska’s refuge. (House Suspends Alaska Drilling Push)

It is inevitable that drilling will happen in Alaska’s refuge some day. The issue will remain a hot debate for years to come but eventually will end when a bill is passed allowing drilling in the ANWR. Other Protection groups, such as The Wilderness Society, claim that the current administration does not seem worried for finding alternatives for fuel since we have plenty at home. They also show that the issue with fuel prices in the eyes of the current administration is that we can decrease oil dependency on foreign countries by boosting oil production domestically. Current lawmakers say that the ANWR may contain up to 10.2 billion barrels, increasing current production from 62.0% to 66.0% over a time period of ten years. (www.wilderness.org)

Increasing production will only temporary help our fuel dependency but in the long run what can be done? According to the Wilderness Society, the focus of the administration seems to be only on producing more oil from oil companies. This should not come as a big surprise since President Bush and vice president Cheney were both formally oil executives. And these government officials still maintain very close relations with the oil companies which influence oil drilling legislation in favor of these oil companies. This is why between 1999 and 2000, the Bush administration received about $1.6 million in campaign contributions from oil corporation giants. (The wilderness society.)

From an environmentalist perspective, this is alarming as it gives additional power to support the interests of the oil companies and their lobbying groups over environmentalists and conservation groups. According to an article in the CQ Researcher, Vice president Cheney, who is also the head of the Energy Task Force, held several meetings with representatives of the oil industry to develop an energy plan, but never held any meetings with environmentalists or conservationists. (Domestic Energy Development.)

The Sierra club, an environment preservation and protection group, argues that drilling in Alaska’s refuge is not necessary at all because there is only a limited supply of oil. And the group argues that the oil drilling proposal is simply a way to profit the oil corporations and will not solve any oil shortage issues. They also claim that it would not help reduce oil dependency on oil producing nations, nor will it strengthen our national security as the administration claims. Furthermore, the adverse effects that it has on one of the few remaining wildlife habitats are very severe and irreversible. (“Call Now to Save the Arctic!”)

The Sierra Club explains on their website that Alaska National wildlife artic is the only remaining 5% of Alaska’s land to be untouched by oil producing companies. They also claim that the Artic includes many species of wild animals that take live in this habitat such as the wolves, polar bear, musk ox and wolverine. This land of untamed wilderness is also home to the Gwich’in Indians, a 20,000 year old native culture whose lifestyle depends on harvesting local herds of animal in the area. Environmentalists fear that if drilling for oil was to happen, these rich biological rich lands would be changed forever.

Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, also blame the current price spikes in oil products on Organizations of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and their policies. OPEC is the organization that sets the global price of oil, because they control over 75 percent of the world’s oil reserves. They also state the steady increase of oil demand these last years has in turn forced OPEC to increase its supply, and since oil is a nonrenewable resource, OPEC had to inevitably raise the price of gasoline: it’s just the way the supply and demand curve works.( Arctic Refuge Drilling and Gas Prices.)

Rather than trying to increase production domestically, the Sierra Club and other environment protection groups want to decrease our dependency on oil by using alternatives that can be produced locally from natural renewable sources. One of the alternatives is Ethanol.

Ethanol is an alcohol that can burns much cleaner than petroleum. Ethanol when burned produces Carbon Dioxide and water which are not harmful at all. However, it is not used directly for fuel yet rather it can be added to gasoline to produce a more efficient gas that will reduce oil consumption over time. Ethanol can be produced mainly from corn and does require time to harvest and distill, therefore it is still not a complete alternative to oil, but it will cut down the consumption rates over time.

The best alternative fuel is Hydrogen. Hydrogen gas is nontoxic, burns efficiently producing pure water and electricity that can be used to fuel automobiles. The CQ Researcher shows that many cars are available now that use hydrogen cells to operate such as the Sequel. The Sequel is a hydrogen operated sedan manufactured by General Motors Corp., which is yet to be released, that performs similar to a regular sedan but instead uses Hybrid Technology. According to the article, General Motors predicts that by 2010 it will be mass produced and available for consumers. (Cooper, Mary H.) Other automobile manufactures such as Toyota and Honda have already released Hybrid cars that use hydrogen, but the price tags of these cars are still quite expensive making it unaffordable to be used by average consumers. (GM Sequel: Reinvented Automobile: No Longer Just a Dream)

This technology has yet to evolve and still requires years of research in order for it to completely replace gasoline operated cars. American automobile manufactures still need to develop more fuel efficient cars in order to compete with Japanese automakers that are already producing hybrid cars. Although cars like the Sequel by GM and Ford’s Escape are promising starts of hybrid technology, they are still behind in fuel efficiency. Ford and GM are mainly producing gas guzzling Sport Utility Vehicles that give poor gas mileage and are hazardous and unsafe on the road.

The Sierra club also argues that the current administration is doing nothing to stop these automobile manufactures from producing these harmful vehicles. GM’s Suburban average gas mileage is as low as 13 miles per gallon. If the Bush administration proposed higher gas mileage standards at around 40 mpg, oil consumption will reduce over the next few decades to record lows. That is one of the steps that the government needs to take to help manage oil consumption.

With the recent popularity with SUV’s and trucks that consume much more gasoline than other sedans, the demand of oil has increased, in addition, the recent hurricane season on the gulf of Texas that left many oil refineries damaged for several weeks. This only means that the price that we pay at the pump is going to continue to rise until an alternative is available. This leaves the current administration with little choice but to search for additional land to explore for oil, as it seems that it the only immediate solution. Meanwhile, the budget spent on renewable energies needs to be increased so that in the next few years we have an alternative option to oil which can reduce our dependency on oil eventually lowering prices.

Many years of debate have come to no conclusion. The point of not being able to use these resources that are available because of the previous reasons does seem unacceptable. The point of argument here is that our administration needs to focus on some of these methods to decrease demand for oil products, such as imposing stricter gas mileage laws on automobile manufacturers, and encouraging Hybrid vehicle purchases by introducing more tax breaks on Hybrid vehicles for consumers, but the fact of matter is that is it too late to completely ignore the oil reserves that exist.

The smartest way to tackle this very serious debate is to start developing new energy efficient methods of fuel, since it is the only solution because oil is non-renewable and by the time that the oil runs out we will have those new sources of renewable energy available by then. In the mean time the drilling should be considered only and only if it is done with the appropriate preservation of the wildlife including the protection of the animals that live in the Arctic wilderness because it a serious price that we cannot pay for the price of a few gallons of oil.

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