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It is time to open ANWR

I am an Inupiaq Eskimo from Barrow, the northernmost point in Alaska. Our
small town is usually quiet during the winter months, except for harsh wind
gusts that bring the temperature to a bone-chilling negative 40 and 50
degrees Fahrenheit.

But earlier this month President Bush's closest advisers, U.S. Senators and
the national media brought a lot of attention when they visited us. They
wanted to learn about our support for oil production on the north coastal
plain of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the land where my people lived
for hundreds of years and which the U.S. Senate opened for production March
16.

Many people in the lower 48 states speak loudly about what we Native people
should do with our land. They say that because they do not want oil
production on our lands, we should not have it. But our U.S. Senators Ted
Stevens and Lisa Murkowski, and Rep. Don Young, listen to us. With the help
of Rep. Richard Pombo, R-Calif., and Senator Pete Domenici, R-N.M., they
are giving us the best chance ever to have our voices heard. The Native
people on Alaska's northern coastal plain want jobs and opportunities for
our children.

I grew up before revenue from oil production helped provide my people
services that most Americans take for granted. After finishing elementary
school in Barrow I had to leave my home and family to attend school over
1,000 miles away in southeast Alaska. I was not alone. Children in dozens
of other Alaska Native villages across the state made similar voyages. If
we wanted an education, we had no choice.

Today, my grandchildren do not have to make this extraordinary sacrifice.
The state of Alaska has been able to use revenue from oil production on the
North Slope to invest in schools and provide education to children in their
home villages. This allows Alaska Native people to share our subsistence
culture with the next generation and allows children to receive the
education they need to lead our people into the future.

Alaska Natives have greatly benefited from oil production on the North
Slope. However, my people have not always been supportive of the industry.
When oil was first discovered at Prudhoe Bay, most of us on the North Slope
were skeptical of the industry's claim to be able to develop the land
without harming the wildlife which defines our culture.

Through our home-ruled government, the North Slope Borough, we have worked
closely with producers to enact the strictest environmental standards on
the planet. As a result, the petroleum industry is able to coexist with
wildlife in the Arctic. In fact, species that reside in the area have
flourished alongside production facilities. The western Arctic caribou herd
has increased tenfold since production began, bird populations have grown
and populations of other species equal those of surrounding areas.

The benefits of oil production have far outweighed the minimal impact on
the environment. Additional future production elsewhere in the Arctic will
have an even smaller impact. New technology allows oil wells to be drilled
horizontally for up to six miles from a single small pad. These new pads
take up to 88 percent less ground than they had previously. In addition,
roads have been minimized because producers now utilize ice roads in the
winter that melt in the spring and leave the tundra untouched.

I do not want any young Alaska Natives to be forced to choose between a
high school education and practicing a subsistence culture among his or her
people. That is why I join a clear majority of Alaska Natives in support of
opening an extremely small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
to oil and gas exploration and production. The Alaska Federation of Natives
- which represents over 120,000 Eskimos, Indians and Aleuts - has passed
numerous resolutions stating such support.

Alaska Natives are not the only ones who will benefit from production in
ANWR. The United States will likely produce over $350 billion of domestic
oil, which will help reduce our dependence upon other nations for our
energy needs. It also will benefit hundreds of thousands of working
Americans nationwide who will be needed to provide infrastructure to the
industry.

While my people are not the sole beneficiaries from production, we clearly
have the most at stake. Our culture will not exist if wildlife in the
Arctic is negatively impacted.

We have looked at the facts and determined overwhelmingly that oil
production in ANWR should take place. I hope that other Americans with
little or nothing at stake, and so much to gain, can do the same.

Oliver Leavitt is vice president of government affairs for Arctic Slope
Regional Corp., a Native owned and operated corporation representing the
Arctic Slope Inupiat. He is a resident of Barrow, a whaling captain and a
grandfather.