From Alaska with apprehension
Seiberling campaigns for Alaskan wilderness

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the largest in the country and one of the least visited. Located by the Arctic Ocean in northeastern Alaska, the refuge is again the subject of political debate. On Wednesday, retired local congressman John Seiberling and two other Ohio residents, who went to the ANWR, spoke on campus to oppose oil drilling in its delicate tundra habitat.

This month the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate will reconcile conflicting versions of the energy bill. While the ANWR has been protected from oil drilling in the past, the House of Representatives voted to allow it, and 60 votes in the Senate are needed to reverse its previous vote against it. Ohio’s senators have split in past votes, with George Voinovich supporting drilling in the ANWR and Mike DeWine opposing it.

Seiberling spoke of the “absolutely mind-boggling,” mountainous landscape, abundant wildlife and the fragility of the arctic terrain thaws briefly in the summer.

“This land belongs not to the oil companies, not to the state of Alaska,” said Seiberling, “but to the whole American people.”

He stressed our obligation to preserve wilderness for future generations, because if the ANWR is damaged, “It will never be wilderness again in the lifetime of our civilization.” Seiberling said.

“You don’t have to occupy every acre of land to mess it up,” he added.

Athens, Ohio resident Chad Kister spent three months from June to September backpacking 700 miles across Alaska’s North Slope this year and wrote a book about his experiences. Starting from the end of the Alaska Pipeline at Prudhoe Bay, Kister carried rations for 10 days and planned to survive on wild greens and fish.

Kister said that fish were hard to find in the rivers downstream from the oil wells, and he didn’t get enough to eat until he crossed the boundary into the ANWR, where the fish were abundant. He also told of seeing deep ruts in the mud and patches where the vegetation was killed by oil spills, which will take hundreds to thousands of years to heal in the short arctic summers.

“I don’t want the same fate to happen to the Arctic Refuge,” Kister said.

Emeritus professor of history Dan Nelson, now president of the Portage Trail chapter of the Sierra Club, also visited the ANWR last June. He feared it might be his last chance to see the vast caribou herd migrate from the mountains to the coastal plain to have their calves. With 95 percent of the North Slope already open to oil development, he stressed the crucial role of the remaining wilderness for the preservation of the caribou, musk oxen, polar bears and 135 species of migratory birds.

While the oil that could be extracted from under the ANWR has been estimated at 3.2 billion barrels, almost half of present annual consumption for the United States, it would take around 50 years to pump it out. Kister pointed out that an equal number of barrels could be saved over 50 years by keeping all tires on U.S. vehicles inflated properly or by raising the minimum fuel efficiency standards by one-third of a mile per gallon.

All three speakers praised Sen. DeWine’s past support for preserving Alaskan wilderness and hoped that Sen. Voinovich followed his example.

“If so, I might have nice things to say about him,” Seiberling said.

They appealed to Ohio residents to contact their elected representatives and ask them to remove authorization for oil development in the ANWR from the energy bill.

When asked what Congress should do to address U.S. energy needs, Seiberling advocated improving efficiency for fuel and electric usage; he proposed more money for research into solar and wind power and in order to get inexhaustible supplies of non-polluting energy. Replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy is, Seiberling concluded, “in the long run, our only option.”


Campaign to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska