As it hits the news again here in Alaska today, I thought I’d post about the current proposal to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This post is from an earlier version on my other website, Expeditions Alaska. The photo above is a buddy of mine hiking on the coastal plain near the Canning River, Section 1002, of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). I presume most readers here have heard something about this, so I’ll skip the introductions, and go straight to my arguments here. I’m not a big fan of arguing by numbers, but we can discuss the ANWR issue with “facts” if you care to: in doing so, it might be interesting to approach this issue by first looking at, and dismantling, the arguments of proponents of drilling. Next month I’ll look at some other reasons, probably more important, IMO, why we need to be as active as we can in our opposition to proposed legislation. First, a look at the typical arguments put forward by those in favor of drilling:
1. National Security, dependence from Middle East foreign oil & the US is ‘better off’ if we drill our own oil.
The US currently buy nearly 70% of the oil we consume. Canada leads the way providing 17% of imports. Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela all provide 13-14% of the oil consumed in the US. Nigeria is next at 8%. In 2002, the Persian Gulf region accounted for less than 20% of total US oil imports. Iraq accounted for 4%, and Kuwait less than 2%. The US consumes 25% of the world’s oil, but has only 3% of the known oil reserves. It’s easy to see here that those proposing to drill for oil in the interests of National Security, of protecting America from Middle East terrorism, are at best, misguided and misleading the public. They have access to the same information I do, so I can only assume they’re lying. The BEST case for drilling is that, for a short while, our dependence on foreign oil will be reduced from 70 percent to 66%, possibly by the year 2015.
A pertinent question then is, how is anything a step towards making the US self-reliant on energy if the capacity to do so is simply not available ?
Secondly, note the term ‘our oil’. It’s a far cry from ‘our oil’. If it were, I’d go get some. But I can’t, because it doesn’t belong to me. It doesn’t belong to you either. In fact, when drilled, it won’t even belong to the US Govt. It’ll belong to whomever drills it – at this point, that looks most likely to be Exxon, the same folks who spilled around 40 000 tonnes of crude oil near Valdez — another article, perhaps?) People all over the world own shares in Exxon. Nothing in the bills have stipulated the oil be sold in the US. Whether the oil drilled in the Wildlife Refuge is sold overseas or sold in the US is irrelevant. You, I, your next door neighbor nor anyone else will be any better off (unless, of course you or your neighbor own shares in Exxon, or whomever else purchases the drilling rights). If the US legislates that oil drilled on US land must be consumed in the US, then that same right should be afforded other countries. Imagine the outrage if Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and all the the other countries who provide the US with nearly 70% of the oil consumed here were to enact similar legislation.
Further evidence of the deception: If this argument above were a ‘real’ consideration, President Bush would not have just made a deal with Senator Martinez to NOT drill off the Florida Gulf coast. This deal was made to garner Martinez’ crucial vote for the pro-drilling legislation in the Arctic refuge.
Lastly, the very real threat posed by terrorism on the Alaskan Pipeline would only be increased if we become more reliant on the aging pipeline. In 2001, 285,600 gallons of oil spilled into several acres of forest after an intoxicated local fired a rifle into the pipeline. 50% chance of finding enough oil in ANWR to meet national demand for 9 months (other groups predict 6 months)
65% potential increase in vehicle efficiency using current technology; that could cut US oil use by 1.5 million barrels per day within a decade.
2. The footprint, at 2000 acres, is .1% of the Wildlife Refuge.
The area open to drilling is nearly 10% of the entire Wildllife Refuge, and the coastal plain designated is the most biodiverse region in the arctic. And what constitutes the ‘footprint’ is very misleading. For example, the footprint at Prudhoe Bay is 12 000 acres. However, this does not include any land entrapped by fencing, roadways, buildings, wells and other infrastructure, etc that is not DIRECTLY covered. The total land affected and imposed upon by the drilling there stands at 640 000 acres. Further, absolutely NOTHING ensures that the ‘footprint’ cannot extend further than that stipulated 2000 acres once drills are in place. Rest assured, once drilling is engaged, the minute the developers demand access to more land to drill, they’ll be allowed to. Also, the 2000 acres is not contiguous. the USGS has found that, “the oil is expected to occur in a number of accumulations rather than a single large accumulation.” They are allowed to drill ANYWHERE on the coastal plain, and build whatever roads, water reservoirs, etc they need to in order to feasibly drill.The impact of such a proposal will extend far far beyond a mere 2000 acres. Networks of pipelines and roads obviously would fragment wildlife habitat.
The footprint predicted in the CRS report, (p78) would be smaller than the nearly 6000 acres predicted in the FLEIS report of 1987, but only slightly so, with a possible demand for even more acreage devoted to some features such as marine and saltwater treatment facilities and small permanent airfields). There is NO indication that Congress would stipulate that footprint cannot be enlarged if the ‘developers’ should choose to do so. America’s congressionally designated Wilderness areas constitute only 4.4 percent of the entire U.S., including Alaska.
95% the area of Alaska’s costal plain already open to potential oil and gas development
5% the remainder of Alaska’s costal plain – included in ANWR – being considered for development.
3. Drilling won’t affect the caribou.
Female caribou productivity around the North Slope, particularly around Prudhoe Bay, have declined since oil production began. Caribou in the Wildlife Refuge will be more directly affected, and the decline is expected to be even greater. The 1987 Legislative Impact Study describing the potential impact of oil and gas development submitted to Congress predicted major effects on caribou and muskox populations, and moderate effects on wolves, wolverine, polar bears, snow geese, seabirds and shorebirds, arctic grayling and coastal fish. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress on ANWR: Background and Issues (May 2003) concludes that the situation remains the same as it did in 1987. USGS scientists studying the effect on caribou calving in the area concluded “a substantial reduction in calf survival would be expected under full development of the 1002 area.” (USGS Wildlife Research Studies, 2002, p31.).
Furthermore, it’s not at all reasonable to assume the same conditions and effects for ANWR as the Prudhoe Bay situation; “the coastal plain in Section 1002 is MUCH narrowed, meaning displaced wildlife must adapt to a a very different environment (more predation, less refuge from mosquito and insect bites, a major source of health problems) than the broader area of Prudhoe Bay, Secondly, conditions have changed since P. Bay development began nearly 30 years ago: winters tend to be milder, tundra thaws earlier and freezes later, and vegetation patterns have already begun to change in response to these changes. Animal life is expected to respond to these changes sooner or later” (CRS Report for Congress, May 2003, p58).
The caribou are but one species in an incredibly rich ecosystem. The snow geese, the owls, the falcons, the 3 species of bears, the wolves, the wolverines, the MuskOx, and on and on are all a web of life that is merely a shadow of what once existed across North America. Nowhere else on the continent does an ecosystem remain that is so ancient, so pristine and wild, that it allows us to truly glimpse what ‘nature’ actually is. Additional investigations since 1987 substantiate the fact that water in the 1002 area is very limited and the impact upon water resources should be considered major.”
50 – 75% of Porcupine herd calves born in the Costal Plain area. After calving, the entire herd uses the costal plain for foraging and insect relief.
4. Oil spills are becoming less likely, and have less impact.
Just a brief glance at what happened 15 years ago in Prince William Sound denies any authenticity here. Close to 300 sea otters, at least 300 harbor seals, 22 orcas and probably a quarter million seabirds died as a result of one oil spill. From Prudhoe Bay, 1.3 million gallons of 40 different substances ranging from acid waste to oil have been spilled between 1996 and 1999. Studies show that even 30 years after deisel spills in the arctic, vegetation does not recover, and hydrocarbons are still in the air, evidence that wildlife in the area will be threatened. The current rate of reportable spills on Alaska¹s North Slope is about one per every 18 hours.
5. Limited environmental impact of newer technologies.
Ice road construction requires 1.35 million gallons of water per mile. It takes 30,000 gallons of water per day to support an oil drill rig – as much as 15 million gallons may be required to drill one exploratory well. In 1995 the USFWS found that water in the 1002 area is very limited and impacts upon water resources should be considered major. At the time of maximum ice development, only 9 million gallons of water are available in 237 miles of river across the coastal plain – enough to build and maintain only 6.6 miles of ice road. Gravel roads may be necessary. Ice mining and water diversion from lakes and rivers results in an increased depth of freezing, which kills invertebrates important to fish and waterbirds.
200 days/year that vehicles were permitted to travel over tundra permafrost in 1960.
100 days/year that vehicles are permitted to travel over permafrost in 2004; reduction attributed to climate change.
6. To help bring oil prices down.
This is a lie. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge might possibly yield 1% of world oil production. Such relatively minimal supply would, in real terms, have no net effect on prices. Oil prices are set, almost solely, by OPEC. Known US reserves constitutes 2.8% of the world’s oil, and hence we’re relatively powerless to influence prices. Secondly, to repeat, there is a 1995 law that permits exporting Alaskan North Slope oil to overseas countries. Oil companies systematically jacked up West Coast oil prices long ago by exporting Alaskan crude to Asia for less than it could have sold the oil to US refineries. For example, in 1977, when the Alaskan pipeline was first opened up, the industry claimed we see lower oil prices. In fact, between 1977 and 1981, gasoline prices more than doubled, while millions of barrels of Alaskan oil were being pumped.
7. The “will” of the people.
Polls consistently show a majority of Americans do not support opening the Wildlife Refuge to drilling.
The Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates (WEFA) put together a study in 1990 proposing that 700 000 jobs would be generated nationwide. This study has been discredited by many independent analyses. Jobs generated would be significantly less, largely because of predictions by WEFA on how lower world oil prices would stimulate the economy. For a detailed look at this, visit NRDC on Jobs. Further, what this argument does is carefully sidestep the issue that research into alternative energy sources will create many new jobs, and be equally economically viable, as well as providing a future for a healthy planet. The Alaska Conservation Foundation recently released a study Prepared by UAA’s Institute of Social and Economic Research showing that Alaska’s healthy environment provides six times more direct jobs than the petroleum industry, and more than twice the direct employment opportunities of the petroleum, mining and construction industries combined.
This material is a little dated at the moment but the principle hasn’t really changed at all. I’ll try to get some newer stuff online soon.