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Alaska's Sarah Palin: Big Oil's new champion

by Will Yong, Press TV, Tehran

For many, John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin for presidential running mate came as a surprise. Political heavyweights such as Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty had to stand aside for the little-known Alaska governor with "telegenic" looks.

McCain's choice may not have been predictable but it shows him moving further towards the interests of the industry most concerned about a Republican victory this November - Oil.

U.S. oil firms have given John McCain three times more declared campaign money than to Democratic nominee, Barack Obama. Big oil contributions to the Republican Party outweigh oil money to the Democrats by a similar ratio.

Sarah Palin hasn't been in the game long enough to have shown all her political colors but on one key issue she has made herself abundantly clear. Oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.

Palin describes it as "nonsensical" that the president should have to "ask the Saudis to ramp up production of crude oil" while "sister state" Alaska has the oil that "hungry markets" in America need.

"But these lands are locked up by Congress, and we are not allowed to drill to the degree America needs the development."

Palin has also expressed support for a USD 30b gas pipeline project and called listing polar bears as an endangered species a "significant threat to development."

Palin's answer to America's "hungry" markets? Bring more oil to the table.

McCain himself certainly opposed drilling in Alaska before he came out in favour of it. In the past he has expressed views more in line with Al Gore than George W. Bush.

In 2005, John McCain voted for a ban on oil-drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). He has even gone on record criticising America's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.

The Republican Party's Big Oil backers must have been quaking in their cowboy boots when they heard McCain talk about devoting efforts to alternative energy - which he described as "the ultimate answer to our long-term energy needs."

Even as late as May 2008, McCain was saying that tapping America's coastline for the nation's energy needs would be an inefficient waste of time.

But by June, McCain had put his energy policy into a very different gear and began to call for the federal government to lift restrictions on America's own reserves.

"As a matter of fairness to the American people, and a matter of duty for our government, we must deal with the here and now, and assure affordable fuel for America by increasing domestic production."

This, despite a recent study by the US Energy Information Administration which found that "access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030."

So much for the "here and now".

In the month that McCain made his Big Oil turnaround oil and gas industry executives donated USD 1.1m to his campaign - compared with just USD 116,000 in March, USD 283,000 in April and USD 208,000 in May.

Sarah Palin's strong support for drilling in the ANWR is no great surprise considering her all-Alaska background. It is hard to win office in the "last frontier" state without backing increased exploitation of natural resources.

Palin's husband is also an employee of British Petroleum - the British oil giant with significant interests in Alaska's oil wealth. That said, Palin, like the new McCain, has come out in favour of reaching beyond Alaska to America's coastlines.

"There are even bigger sources of crude than ANWR . . . such as offshore areas like the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea. Congress can help us with those areas right now, bringing even more energy than ANWR and bringing it quicker."

Few would have been tempted to put money on Sarah Palin being chosen as John McCain's running mate, but for U.S. oil industry interests, she appears to be a safe bet.

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