Billionaire oil baron T. Boone Pickens was leading a campaign in 2008 urging U.S. companies to suspend drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the most prized natural resources in the U.S.
“It’s not in our favor that you would risk $4 trillion on drilling in ANWR to avoid oil price shocks. No. It’s why I am doing it,” he said in an April call with supporters.
Pickens helped found the organisation Citizens for a Better Alaska.
Yesterday, however, Pickens is again on board, making a bold call for drilling in Alaska’s ANWR — one of the most promising environments for global oil and gas reserves.
Speaking to CNN Money, Pickens said he hopes to speed up the development of Alaska’s oil riches to provide more affordable fuel for global families. The Obama administration rejected a 30-year lease in the refuge’s core area in 2016 because of fears that drilling could pollute the nearby Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Pickens calls the refuge an iconic property the way a beautiful bay is to a beach. “It’s an incredible, unbelievably diverse area … every day you walk up and down a beach and see the amazing wildlife, you see the huge sea turtles and sea birds,” he said.
But Pickens also said he foresees environmental issues of all sorts in Alaska’s vast area.
“There is no question that this is a more difficult environment to develop oil [than] anywhere in the country,” he said.
“This isn’t a going-to-market place,” he added. “We think we are going to need to be more thoughtful. We won’t have as many good wells as we would like to use … We don’t want to be the last oil player.”
According to a Greenpeace report from last year, Alaska’s North Slope is among the most polluted in the U.S. — with water turbidity exceeding 150 microcuries per litre (mcg/L). That means, for example, that there is a bad carbon release from industrial water boilers spewing in excess of 6,000 units per day. That’s roughly equivalent to the contaminant in four million cars.
These reports are said to have prompted state regulators to close an Exxon Mobil refinery at that location last year. ExxonMobil later told the New York Times that it had asked for the release to be removed to prevent a new high-pollution event from taking place.
Why would Pickens ditch drilling in ANWR? “I think we have to balance the interests,” he said. “To go offshore and you have to be smart about the impacts, but then you need to have the rights to extract that.”