Does 7.14 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil seem like an immense amount (Baldwin, Gelb, Derner, 2006)? That is because 7.14 billion barrels of oil is an enormous amount. It also represents a highly significant amount of domestic production potential. That is the projected amount of barrels a day that could be drilled in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge [ANWR]. So, why is there no drilling there currently and why is there the huge concern and controversy over drilling in this oil abundant area? Perhaps because ANWR is home to thousands of caribou during calving season, is close to the Arctic Ocean, and consists of miles of rugged Alaskan tundra. Although there is much controversy and concern over drilling for oil in ANWR, drilling will not negatively affect the environment because the land will be protected, the wildlife will be preserved, and drilling will leave a small environmental footprint.
In 1960, ANWR was founded. In 1980, more acres were added to the refuge, and oil development was mostly banned in the area (Gelb, 2006). ANWR is actually divided up into three different areas by law: the “Refuge”, “Wilderness”, and the “10-02” area. In the south is the “Refuge” land, and in the center is the “Wilderness” land. These two regions take up 17.16 million acres out of the total 19.6 million acres. There is absolutely no drilling or exploration allowed in these two areas. In the northern region of ANWR is the “10-02” area. It is actually called this because in section 10-02 of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, Congress designated this area for oil exploration (“What,” n.d.). It is interesting that such controversy over drilling the land is apparent today, despite the fact that in 1980 the “10-02” area was clearly designated by Congress for that exact purpose.
ANWR covers an astounding 19 million acres, which is larger than some entire states in America. The actual area where oil development would take place is only 12,000 acres (Young, 1995). That may seem like a lot, but it is not when put into perspective. Don Young, congressional representative from Alaska, had a great example when he explained that 12,000 acres is the amount of land taken up by the Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. Essentially drilling in ANWR would only affect as much land as building an airport in the Refuge (Young, 1995). This drilling in the area the size of an airport would create anywhere from 86,000 to 245,000 jobs for Alaskans and Americans (Gelb, 2006). Building an airport uses taxpayer’s money, but drilling for oil is all privately funded, therefore creating these jobs and revenue for the state of Alaska doesn’t cost Americans a dime (Inhofe, 2009). There are not many projects that can boast that kind of numbers, with such little impact and price to taxpayers.
In mainstream America there is a vision of ANWR being a rugged, mountainous, pristine area. The “10-02” area doesn’t fit that description at all. It is miles and miles of barren tundra, with no trees, and covered with snow most of the year (Bachmann, 2008). The coastal plain of the “10-02” area is not pristine; it has roads, villages, and military outposts. Also due to the large amount of oil located in the area, there is some crude oil in the water and on the beaches (Venegas, 2008). This is a natural occurrence for the land and has not affected the wildlife negatively. If proper measures are taken, drilling in ANWR should not disturb the land or the wildlife.
ANWR is host to many different wildlife species year round, including birds, polar bears, and caribou (“Study,” 2004). The main concerns from environmentalists are usually raised over the caribou in the north, especially since caribou calving season takes place in ANWR. There are two herds of caribou that migrate through ANWR; the Porcupine caribou herd and the Central Arctic caribou herd. The Central Arctic herd is estimated to include 32,000 caribou, and they usually occupy the west side of ANWR. The Porcupine caribou herd is estimated to include 123,000 caribou. This herd migrates to the northern section of ANWR in March. In May the pregnant females are first seen on the slope, and by late May calving season has begun in the north. In late July the herd has moved off the slope and into other areas of Alaska and Canada (“Caribou,” n.d.). Since the caribou are only in the Refuge during the summer, drilling can be done in the winter to limit the affect on the caribou during the summer (Venegas, 2008).
Every calving season, the caribou females are known to have their calves in specific areas. In these specific calving areas there are five proposed drilling sites that are thought to have oil and gas potential. Only two of these prospects are thought to have significant oil potential, although all five sites would be drilled for exploration purposes. Even though drilling should not harm the caribou calving habits, there is the possible proposal for excluding these five sensitive drilling prospects from the ANWR development project. If these five areas were excluded from drilling, the entire ANWR project is still estimated to retrieve 770 million barrels of oil during the production phase of the project. This will still provide a tremendous amount of oil and gas, while eliminating drilling in the most sensitive caribou habitats (Powell, 1991). Although there is much concern over caribou calving habitats, there is also concern over many other animals living in ANWR.
Along with caribou, the coastal plain of Northern Alaska is home to many polar bears. Pregnant mother polar bears build dens out of snow and ice on the coast, and then have their cubs about halfway through the winter. Most activity in the oil development area would happen in the winter, which is the very same time polar bear cubs are birthed. Like other possible environmental issues associated with oil development, this potential problem can be taken care of with technology and careful planning. The use of incredibly detailed landscape photography and ground-truth sampling has enabled scientists to identify 91.5% of polar bear dens on the coastal plain (Derner, Amstrup, Ambrosius, 2006). Using this information, oil developers can limit their activities to non-den areas so as to minimize the disturbances to all polar bears.
The caribou, whales, and other animals are needed by the Alaska Natives in the North to provide their subsistence lifestyle. The government knows and recognizes this need, which is why proper rules and regulations can be put into place to protect the wildlife from the dangers of drilling. If drilling in ANWR was permitted, it would take about 9 or 10 years for the drilling to actually begin (“Study,”2004). This gives adequate time to make sure that all drilling can be done completely safely. The Anchorage Daily News Miner stated that “the industry can do it right—especially when held accountable by governments and citizens who demand that no corners be cut, that the best available technology be the norm, and that maximizing profits never trumps care for safety and the environment” (“Keep,” 2010).
Don Young puts it best when he said, “The caribou herd that migrates through the existing Prudhoe Bay oil field has tripled since development began 20 years ago. Alaskans have done such a good job protecting wildlife that there has not been one death of any animal because of oil development there” (Young, 1995). The simple fact is that the caribou herd near Prudhoe Bay is only there part of the year and they have not been affected. Not only have the caribou been undisturbed, they have actually thrived since the oil drilling began there. The entire Prudhoe Bay oil development project has not negatively affected the wildlife after all these years. Therefore, these new operations in ANWR, utilizing better technology, and better planning will definitely not disturb the wildlife. If there is adequate time to develop stringent rules and regulations, drilling can be very safe for all animals.
The environmental footprint in any refuge is very important. This is the area that will be directly affected by exploration and drilling for oil. Over the past few years, methods of oil discovery and retrieval have been developed and improved tremendously. Due to these advances in equipment, technology, and retrieval methods, the surface footprint of drilling for oil has been dramatically reduced (Gelb, 2006). The environmental footprint in any refuge should have restrictions and laws in order to protect the land.
In ANWR, this type of legislation has been in effect since 1980. That legislation created the “10-02” area of ANWR, which contains 1.5 million acres and was originally designated for oil exploration. Congress narrowed the environmental footprint even more by only allowing 2,000 acres to be affected by actual drilling in this region. Simply put that is .05% of ANWR as a whole (“What,” n.d.). Overall that is a very small footprint, and oil developers may not even disrupt all of those 2,000 acres with the utilization of new technology. Some claims by environmentalists have said that no intrusion at all on the land is justified. In a world where humans and wildlife have to coexist, it is impossible to never disrupt an animal. Sometimes the end justifies the means, but this oil drilling would have such a small environmental footprint that the disruption is insignificant.
Many people believe that oil exploration will disturb a large quantity of land. However utilizing new technology advances, the amount of earth disturbed for mere exploration can be diminished. The use of low-altitude aeromagnetic reconnaissance can determine where oil and gas prospects are. Essentially this system utilizes an airplane with special equipment that flies low above the ground and can detect variations in the earth’s magnetic field. This data can then be transferred to computers to project likely prospects. Using low-altitude aeromagnetic reconnaissance technology is inexpensive and precise, and will increase the amount of revenue from drilling. Using this technology and other new innovations will be very useful in limiting ground disturbance (Donovan, Hendricks, Roberts, Eliason, 1984).
These new innovations in locating oil reserves limit ground disturbance in a few ways. For each separate drilling site, a pad must be put into place. These drilling pads cause some ground disturbance. The more precise oil locating technology will limit the need for construction of these pads, which will result in less ground disturbance. Each pad has a certain amount of employees that operate the pad, and these employees all need ways to travel back and forth from the pad. The fewer production pads, the fewer gravel roads and airstrips are needed near the drilling sites. Another new technique that will be used in the project is re-injecting waste products. In old drilling projects the natural wastes from drilling oil were put in pits. Re-injecting the wastes from drilling into the old drilling shaft eliminates the needs for pits that would disturb the land. The reduction in gravel roads, need for fewer pads, and re-injection of wastes all create a smaller footprint for the ANWR oil development project.
There are misconceptions about drilling in ANWR, and naysayers discourage people from seeing its possible potential. Congress has designated the “10-02” section specifically for economic development, especially oil and gas exploration (Everett, 2002). However, in the years since, Congress has blocked the drilling. Despite this, Congress recently allowed research groups to remove ice cores in the “Wilderness” zone using heavy machinery (Bluemink, 2008). If Congress will allow this type of disruption in the “Wilderness” zone, then why won’t they allow exploration in the developmental “10-02” zone? Even the development in the “10-02” zone is minimal, only a fraction of the total land area of ANWR. Congress needs to realize that if proper safety rules and regulations are put into place and enforced; there can be environmentally safe drilling in ANWR. Drilling in the “10-02” section will not negatively affect the environment, because the drilling can be completed with a small environmental footprint that protects both the land and the wildlife.
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