Last night, on Glenn Beck’s CNN Headline News program, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) falsely claimed that wildlife in Alaska are not affected by oil operations in Alaska. Animals “couldn’t care less whether…the pipeline was there, or the oil company was there,” he said. Glenn Beck similarly argued that wildlife can’t tell if the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline is a “tree or a pipeline,” and said that the northern reaches of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — where Boehner hopes to drill — are a “barren wasteland.” Watch it:
Beck and Boehner are wrong. Far from “not caring” about the presence of oil operations at the 800-square mile Prudhoe Bay facility, native species are dramatically affected. Scientific surveys have shown that the Central Arctic caribou herd has been “crowded out” due to drilling:
[The survey] showed that the caribou reduced their use of the more heavily developed Prudhoe Bay oil fields by 78 percent, and their east-west movements declined by 90 percent — a sign oil activity can impact a herd’s movements.
‘As surface development continues, the caribou are effectively crowded out of these areas,’ said Cameron, the University of Alaska professor, who has studied the effects of roads and pipelines on the Central Arctic herd. ‘They’ve decided it’s not the place to be.’
In addition, the northern reaches of the Refuge — where Boehner proposes drilling — are not a “barren wasteland,” as conservatives like Beck and the Heritage Foundation would have you believe. In fact, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Refuge’s northern edge is home to “a greater degree of ecological diversity than any other similar sized area of Alaska’s north slope.”
What’s more, despite Boehner’s claim to have first hand knowledge of the Refuge’s terrain and wildlife as a result of his recent trip to Alaska, he never set foot inside the reserve, and his view from the air was obscured by fog.
BECK: Wow, look how pretty that is. It’s flat, it’s watery. Mosquito infested for your enjoyment during the summer months. It looks exactly like Prudhoe Bay which is just a couple hundred miles in the other direction. We have been drilling for oil there for years. And when all the cute caribou leave for the winter, ANWR looks even more like Prudhoe Bay; a snowy, barren wasteland that, I say, looks pretty good with that big oil well sticking out of it. Now, if you don’t want to drill in a desolate, frozen tundra we bought for its natural resources, that’s fine. I think you’re an idiot, but who am I to judge? But an important issue like this, shouldn’t we at least, have an honest debate? Shouldn’t we prevent — present the facts honestly to each other? Don’t we owe it to each other and our country?
BOEHNER: Yes, the whole area on the northern coast of Alaska, Prudhoe Bay, where we have been drilling for 30 years, where we’ve produced almost 12 billion barrels of oil, it’s right in the middle of that northern coast. And the National Petroleum Reserve is just west of it, and ANWR, the coastal area the 1002 area is just east of it.
It’s a broad, coastal plain. There’s nothing there. There is an Eskimo tribe that lives near this ANWR area; a group of 240 people who actually want us to drill because they know we can drill in a responsible way, but there’s nothing there. Now, I saw caribou, but I saw more caribou at Prudhoe Bay, and over at the National Petroleum Reserve than I saw over at ANWR.
BECK: I want to show you some pictures a friend of mine sent to me. I swear to you, I thought this was enhanced. I thought, there was no way; that somebody put this caribou in. Look at this picture. Tell me if this is anything like what you saw in Prudhoe Bay.
BOEHNER: Yeah. We saw — we were at the beginning of the Trans-Alaska pipeline. There were 25 of us there talking, milling around, and there were a handful of caribou that just kept walking towards us and towards us. They were 30 yards away from us, and they couldn’t care less whether we were there, the pipeline was there, or the oil company was there.
BECK: A picture of the bear. The bear is a bear. He doesn’t know if it’s a tree or a pipeline.
BOEHNER: We were out on a man-made island, out in the Arctic Sea, man-made by British Petroleum, and they asked us to be careful when we went outside that day because there was a polar bear out earlier. And they looked under the building because the polar bear likes to get under the building. If you have got polar bears and you’ve got caribou, it’s clear that we can drill in a environmentally friendly way.
The patently false claims advanced by Beck, Boehner, and others are not new. Former president George H. W. Bush said in 1991, in reference to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, “The caribou love it. They rub against it and they have babies.”