Caracas, Venezuela, April 22, 2005—U.S. President George W. Bush spoke before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Conference on Tuesday, urging them to push Congress to approve oil exploitation in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. Describing U.S. dependence on foreign energy as a “foreign tax on the American Dream” and as a “matter of national security,” Bush proposed that the United States expand its domestic energy production.
Alluding to his concerns over U.S. energy dependence on Venezuela, Bush said that drilling in the Alaskan reserves could produce up to one million barrels of oil a day and asked, “[d]o you realize that that’s more than half of what we import each day from Venezuela, for example?”
Venezuela is currently the 4th largest supplier of oil to the United States, after Saudi Arabia, Canada and Mexico. According to the Energy Information Administration, of the US Department of Energy, Venezuela sold the United States an average of 1.57 million barrels of oil per day, roughly 15% of its oil imports. The US consumes 20 million barrels of oil per day.
The 1,000 page bill that would allow oil production in the reserves passed in the House of Representatives on Thursday by a vote of 249-183. It is unclear as to whether it will be approved in the Senate, which voted against the legislation in 2003. However this time around Republics hope to make use of a measure that would prevent Democrats from filibustering the bill.
According to Bush, in light of current oil prices, which are over $50 per barrel, Congress should put aside partisan concerns and pass this bill as fast as possible because “[t]he summer travel season is fast approaching.” The US President went on to add that, “I believe America should not live at the mercy of global trends and the decisions of other nations.”
Don Young, a Republican Representative from Alaska argues that anyone who does not support drilling in Alaska is “really supporting terrorism because they “do not want to develop the domestic fuel supply in this country.”
On the flip side of the coin, environmentalists appear are alarmed about the environmental damage that will be done to Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge. House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, referred to the bill as “anti-environmental” and Representative Hilda Solis, also a Democrat from California, called it “the biggest environmental and public health injustices that the Congress and Bush administration can perpetrate on the American people.”
Representative Ed Markey also was not assuaged by Bush’s assurances that the US will “put its innovative spirit to work” and that the US “can reach ANWR’s oil deposits with almost no impact on land and local wildlife.” Describing the ANWR as “one of the most unique wild and irreplaceable refuges,” the Massachusetts Democrat argued that “[i]f we allow the oil and gas drillers into this refuge, we might as well say good-bye to protection of all 544 refuges in this country.”
The bill has also been criticized by public officials on the grounds that it will take up to ten years for oil production to reach one million barrels per day, doing little to alleviate the prices at the pump now. Also, it undermines efforts to advance the development of alternative energy sources.
In response to comments made that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made in Russia about Venezuelans arms purchases, Venezuela’s Vice-President José Vicente Rangel suggested making a pre-recorded message to avoid wasting time repeatedly affirming that as a sovereign nation Venezuela has the right to purchase arms and continually assuring the US that Venezuela has no intentions of starting an arms race with anyone.
“We would have to record a tape in order to respond to the broken record that the US spokespeople put on when they make declarations about Venezuelan affairs,” Rangel proposed, adding that “We cannot loose our time repeating things that have already been sufficiently clarified; things that Latin American governments have already declared their opinions on.”
During a joint press conference with Russian Foreign Minister Serguei Layroy on Tuesday, Condolezza Rice stated that “we have transmitted our anxiety for the sale of arms in Latin America and in particular, in Venezuela, due to the state of instability in that country. We are going to continue expressing our concern for the arms sale.”
The United States has repeatedly issued statements alleging that Venezuela has not fully cooperated in the so-called “war on terror,” highlighting the ease with which armed Colombian groups and drug traffickers frequently cross the porous 1,400 mile long Colombian-Venezuelan border.
Venezuela, which has double the number of soldiers stationed on the frontier as Colombia, announced the purchase of 100,000 AK-47 rifles and ten military helicopters from Russia, Brazilian Super Tucano planes and eight patrol boats and ten transport aircraft from Spain in order to better arm their soldiers, prevent illegal crossings of illicit groups and protect its national sovereignty.