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‘Peak oil’ a focus of 35th annual Earth Day

On this 35th anniversary of Earth Day, environmental groups are saying that a top priority is fighting oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Two bills that would open the refuge to oil and gas exploration are moving through the U.S. Congress, and because of the new Republican majority, appear to have a better chance of passage this year than on previous attempts.

Meanwhile, in Anchorage, some local environmentalists gathered at the University of Alaska library to discuss the world’s energy future.

Many described that future as bleak, after watching a documentary which argued that the world peak in oil production is taking place right now. Over the next four to five years, some energy analysts say, the world will be managing declining supplies of both oil and natural gas.

The documentary was called, “Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream.” It made a sobering case that 80 million barrels of oil a day -- the amount now produced by the world -- is as good as it gets.

“It’s the end of cheap and abundant energy,” says one researcher. From here, the documentary said, oil production will decline. “Cheap oil is the party that we’ve been enjoying for the past 150 years. That party is coming to an end.”

Many of those watching the documentary said Congress must now take strong measures toward energy conservation.

“If every household in America put in a renewable light bulb in their house, it would be the equivalent of taking 7.5 million cars off the road,” said Kate Troll of the Marine Stewardship Council.

“If we have a sound energy plan in place that speaks to the people and not to industry, then we won’t have the problems with wars and gas prices being so high,” said Betsy Goll (left) , a member of the Sierra Club.

But Sen. Ted Stevens says the peak of world oil production means is that exploratory drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is more urgent than ever. He continues to push for legislation that will allow the refuge to be tapped for oil and gas.

According to scientists, fossil fuel burning is warming the Earth dramatically, especially in the arctic. Glaciers are calving and receding, the tundra is thawing and that is undermining structures throughout Alaska.

And, researchers say, the Porcupine caribou herd of northern Alaska and Canada -- part of the greatest migration left in North America -- because the arctic has warmed so much that the mosquito population has increased drastically. That has contributed to a drop of one-third in the herd, from 180,000 in 1989 to just 120,000 today.

“The time when they’re giving birth is when they’re most vulnerable to these mosquito attacks, and it is indeed impacting the herd,” said Troll.

Environmentalists fear that drilling in ANWR could finish off the already stressed Porcupine caribou. They argue that the calving grounds on the Coastal Plain are so small and the caribou are so easily spooked that oil rigs are likely to disturb the herd enough that large numbers of calves will be separated from their mothers -- a death sentence for the calves.

Oil companies counter by saying that caribou numbers have increased on the North Slope since drilling started there in the late 1970s. Environmentalists say the Coastal Plain in ANWR is much smaller than it is around the existing oil development, and that makes all the difference.

Editorial Notes: The name of the documetary should be "The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream."

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