Rebirth of Reason


Audubon Wildcatters: Environmental Duplicity
by Robert Davison (Wolf)

One great insight from the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter is that, “the first thing a man will do for his ideals is lie,” and the fuss and furor over drilling in ANWR illustrates the point. Do Utopians lie, yes? Do they have to lie, yes ? Why? The sugarplums dancing in their heads can’t be defended in any other way.

Of all the arguments against drilling in ANWR, perhaps the most ingenuous is that there is not enough oil to bother with. According to Richard Pombo, representing the 11th Congressional District of California: Texas has 4.9 billion barrels of proven oil reserves; Louisiana has 564 million barrels; Oklahoma has 556 million barrels; and Wyoming has 489 million barrels. ANWR has an estimated 10.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil. ANWR alone has the potential of twice the proven reserves of all four of those states.

Which brings us to the environmental argument. Democrats, and other left leaning purveyors of the ‘truth’, ran ads showing lofty mountains and lovely green countrysides that would be deflowered if the ‘evil’ oil companies had their way. With typical leftist deceit, the pictures they showed us were of an area far from where the actual drilling would take place. It is nothing like their pretty pictures. It’s a terrain far more closely resembling a Jovian moon, Io perhaps. If their arguments are sound, why would they do that?

Environmental ‘Wildcatters’

It may come as a surprise to many, that The Audubon Society has decades of experience in developing oil resources in the midst of their environmental refuges. Despite propaganda flyers like "A Refuge Is No Place for Oil Rigs!” The Paul J. Rainey Wildlife Refuge in Louisiana, the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida, and the Bernard Baker Sanctuary in southern Michigan all have had active oil production without environmental Armageddon.

The National Audubon Society has drilled thirty-seven wells in the Paul J. Rainey Wilderness Sanctuary in Louisiana alone. The group's efforts have produced one successful crude oil well, and fifteen successful natural gas wells, which bring $2 million into Audubon’s coffers annually. The public is not generally aware of this; first, because no public debate was required as the lands are privately owned and second because environmentalists would just rather not talk about it. They are Luddites more than caretakers of nature; environmentalism is a strawman for their hatred of Capitalism and modern technology.

But, the apparent inconsistency between Audubon's policy on ANWR and its actions on its own lands seems to have embarrassed them enough to revamp the Rainey tale in a way more palatable to environmental activists. In a 1991 World Energy Council Journal article, the Audubon Society said it was compelled to allow drilling within Rainey because the original donors of the preserve had "retained part of the mineral rights beneath the sanctuary." As the revisionist tale is told, if Audubon had refused to sign a lease allowing exploration, under Louisiana law, the other party could have forced the issue. A summary section includes the statement: "Thus, in effect, we had a choice of allowing the drilling with Audubon safeguards in place, or with no Audubon safeguards at all."

An examination of the deed belies this version of the story. When Grace Rainey Rogers donated her brother's hunting preserve to the Audubon Society in 1924, she did not retain any mineral rights; Audubon owned them all. Moreover, the deed of donation stipulated that the land was to be used only as a sanctuary for wild birds; any exploration and drilling would violate the "wildlife sanctuary only" condition and would permit the donor to demand return of the property. Clearly, Audubon was not compelled to develop the energy resources, and was, in fact, prevented from doing so by the condition of the deed. However, when natural gas was discovered in the 1940s, and wells neighboring the Sanctuary became enormously profitable, the revenue became a temptation and deed restriction became a hindrance.

According to Silas B. Cooper, the Audubon Society's attorney in Louisiana, Audubon went back to Mrs. Rogers, and she agreed to allow drilling on Rainey splitting the royalties 50/50. Her heirs later reduced their share to 40%.

Which brings us to Audubon’s Corkscrew Sanctuary. This sanctuary is an area within the Big Cypress National Preserve, and part of the larger Everglades National Park. Unlike Everglades in general, the preserve was created to protect the natural system of water resources flowing into Everglades National Park, but also as a recreational area. As a result, activities not allowed in most national parks such as oil drilling, cattle grazing, privately owned camps, hunting and off-road vehicle use, are permitted. The resident Miccosukee and Seminole Indians harvest cypress trees and other plant life and hold their annual Green Corn Dance, which is open to the public, in the Preserve.

Despite these impacts, Big Cypress has excellent water, which have been classified "outstanding Florida waters” by the State. In southern Michigan, the Bernard Baker Sanctuary, an Audubon Society State affiliate, has had active oil production, as well.

The same Silas B. Cooper now believes that the fragility of ANWR's ecosystem justifies Audubon's opposition to drilling there. Why the apparent contradiction? In today’s hysterical environmental climate, Audubon has to pretend that energy development is categorically incompatible with environmental concerns, their funding depends on it. But, on their own land, they found ways of reconciling oil exploration and development with their environmental unctuousness.

Audubon's experience at Rainey, Corkscrew and Bernard Baker clearly demonstrate the feasibility of extracting oil and natural gas from land without causing environmental harm. Not only has there been no measurable damage from drilling, but the income has enabled Audubon to fund, at Rainey, a marsh management program it could not have otherwise afforded.

Audubon knows how to have mutually advantageous development and environmental protection on their own land; they only become obstructionists when it comes to public lands, and not on principle but for reasons connected with grants and other donations.

Clearly they have no scruples. The inconsistency between Audubon's actions on Rainey and its rhetoric over ANWR reflects the different incentives that drive decisions about the use of private and public lands. At the root of all the controversy surrounding the environment is the question of whether or not the government should own land in the first place.

Public vs. Private Lands

Public lands are a relatively recent phenomena in America stemming from the time of Teddy Roosevelt. It was he who conceived of and initiated the system of National Parks. It was believed at that time that unique geographical areas could not be protected in any other way than by being held and managed by government. This was the original progressive era when, much like today, citizens looked to the government to solve every problem that affected their lives.

Because decisions about public lands have been political, they have been contentious and dishonest. None of the nit picking or micro-managing would occur if the lands were private. If Audubon and others owned all the protected lands in America, we would not even be having the debate.

It should be clear at this point, that the best approach for the environment would be to get the government out of the land management business. The land should be sold (not given) to environmental groups or other private interests. The profits could pay off Social Security. As owners, these groups could drill or not drill as they choose.

© 2005 by Robert Davison Wolf, All Rights Reserved.
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