The Wednesday afternoon call from Deadhorse, Alaska, would not have been ironic if the issue being bandied about was not so lively.

The call was from Republican 7th Congressional District candidate W. Craig Williams, who is currently on a fact-finding mission on possible drilling in the North Slope of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

Deadhorse is located just outside Prudhoe Bay, the largest oil field in North America, producing nearly 1 million barrels of oil per day.

Williams is visiting the region with several other Congressional candidates to talk to locals and take a firsthand look at the proposed drilling site, about 2,000 acres (a little more than 3 square miles) in the ANWR Coastal Plain known as the "10-02 Area" - about 1.5 million acres of the total 19.6 million-acre reserve set aside for oil and gas exploration under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980.

Williams said that while there is no denying the southern end of ANWR is truly beautiful, the proposed drilling site in the northern part of the reserve is a flat, barren patch of tundra that is nothing more than a field of solid ice and snow eight months out of the year.

Williams said he had met Tuesday with officials in Kaktovik, the small Inupiat village of nearly 300 people (and sole ANWR population) who are "very much in favor of exploring" the reserve for oil and natural gas.

Shareholders in the Kaktovik Inupiat Corp. (KIC) would undoubtedly profit from oil development rights on the 92,000 acres the corporation owns in the northern part of the refuge should it open for drilling. The subsurface rights are owned by the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation (ASRC), another Inupiat native organization.

According to the city of Kostavik Web site: "The essence of the Kaktovik position is that we would support oil exploration and development of the coastal plain provided we are given the authority and the resources to ensure that it is done properly and safely. Without the necessary provisions to ensure this protection, we would not."

The economic realities of the region - where, because of its remote location, a single quart of oil can cost $50 - might simply be too strong to ignore.

"Quite frankly, they need infrastructure in their village, and need new hospitals and schools," said Williams, who faces U.S. Rep. Joseph Sestak, D-7 of Edgmont, in the November general election.

Williams said the issue is not simply an economic one, but one of national security, as well. The U.S. currently consumes 20.41 million barrels of oil per day, of which 11.66 million barrels per day are imported.

It also exports about 7 percent of the oil produced in Prudhoe Bay to South Korea, Japan and China.

A 1998 report from the U.S. Geological Survey found a 95 percent probability that at least 5.7 billion barrels of oil are recoverable from ANWR and a 5 percent probability that at least 16 billion barrels of oil are recoverable.

There remains about 120 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil in the rest of the country, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates.

According to an analysis of ANWR by EIA, oil and natural gas production at the refuge would likely peak at about 780,000 additional barrels per day in 2027 or 2028 and would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil in 2030 by about 3 percent.

Sestak spokeswoman Alix Gerz has already made her boss' position clear on drilling in ANWR.

"While drilling is part of the solution, we cannot just drill our way out of this problem," said Gerz in a statement. "While some suggest that we open up land in ... ANWR, there are already 3.8 million leased, but unused, acres in the Alaska National Petroleum Reserve.

"The oil companies should use some of their $1.27 trillion of profits to increase domestic oil production by producing from these areas where they have nearly 10,000 stockpiled and unused drilling permits, which would have a near-term impact on gas prices."

Democrats have also recently pressed the Bureau of Land Management to double lease sales in the ANPR, which they say could contain 10.6 billion barrels of oil.

"I've never advanced that ANWR is the answer to our energy problems - it's a piece of it," Williams said Wednesday. "Drilling itself is just part of a much larger energy package."

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