Like Media, White House Misleads on Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Promotional video for ‘wilderness’ plan mostly shows mountains, flowers and animals, even though drilling wouldn’t happen there.

Just days after Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska, introduced a bill to permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), President Barack Obama announced his plan to designate millions of acres of ANWR in a way that bans drilling.

Obama announced on Jan. 25 that his administration would seek wilderness status for parts of the ANWR including coastal plains, according to Reuters. Congress would have to approve the designation, which would prohibit oil and gas drilling. Several Alaska legislators, including Murkowski, were upset by the announcement.

Bloomberg reported that Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, called it a “lawless attempt” and criticized “their ultimate goal of making Alaska one big national park.”

Liberal environmentalist groups praised the administration seeing it as a victory in their battle on climate change.

“By definition, this must mean that exploration for onshore oil is now off limits there. The people of Alaska are already suffering the effects of climate change. To prevent this situation from worsening, President Obama needs to heed the overwhelming scientific consensus that we must keep untapped fossil fuels in the ground and rule out all offshore arctic drilling for good, starting with canceling Shell’s lease in the Chukchi sea this spring,” Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard said, according to Eco Watch.

Bloomberg reported that the Department of the Interior plan supported by Obama would “protect” 12.28 million acres of land in addition to 7 million acres already set aside as wilderness. Yet, this area could contain 10.3 billion barrels of oil, according to the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Since the 1970s, there has been a fight over whether or not to drill in small portion of ANWR.

The White House released video of ANWR showing beautiful wildlife and snow peaked mountains, but little of the coastal plains some have described as “tundra.” In 2001, CBS “60 Minutes” was much more honest. Reporter Lesley Stahl took a trip to the proposed drilling site in ANWR which looked more like Siberia than the garden of Eden.

But many liberal news outlets have used similar footage or descriptions as the Obama White House to influence the political debate over drilling there. NBC’s “Today” showed footage of snowcapped mountains during a story about ANWR on Dec. 23, 2005. Yet, the proposed drilling would have taken place on Alaska’s northern coast, nowhere near mountains and only on about 2,000 acres, according to Fox News. “Only the flat and featureless coastal plain would be affected, and even there only a small portion of its 1.5 million acres,” Fox News reported.

Jonah Goldberg, editor-at-large for National Review Online, visited ANWR in 2001. He described the area where proposed drilling would occur as “flat tundra,” and said current oilfields were placed “on a comparatively tiny archipelago of parking-lot-sized islands of human activity in a boundless ocean of tundra.”

Opponents of drilling have often claimed drilling in ANWR would negatively affect wildlife. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer interviewed Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who supported drilling in ANWR and Sen. John McCain, R-Az., who opposed it on “The Situation Room” July 16, 2008. While Boehner defended opening a small patch of the area for oil exploration, CNN producers made Boehner share a split-screen with footage of frolicking wildlife.

Yet, drilling at Prudhoe Bay, nearby the ANWR, has not destroyed species. “Environmental opponents of drilling cannot point to a single species that has been driven to extinction or even a population decline attributable to Prudhoe Bay,” a Heritage Foundation analyst said at 

Like CNN, ABC pitted Republicans against each on this issue in 2008. On Sept. 11, 2008, then anchor of ABC “World News” Charles Gibson pushed Sarah Palin to admit she disagreed with her running mate, John McCain on the subject. Palin acknowledged support for opening “a 2,000-acre swath of land in the middle of about a 20 million-acre swath of land.”

That same year, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, told CNN viewers Obama could permanently ban drilling in ANWR by changing the refuge’s designation to a “national monument.”