The recent British Petroleum oil spill that ravaged the Gulf Coast has turned people away from offshore drilling, but this type of drilling can really benefit the United States without great destruction....
There is much controversy about how much oil exists in ANWR. Critics say that if it were the only source, it would yield less than a six-month supply of oil. Supporters of drilling, based on national security, say that all resources need to be marshaled. Overreliance on foreign oil sources leaves us dependent on other countries and vulnerable while at war, proponents of drilling contend. The United States is a large consumer of oil. As a country it has 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes almost 25 percent of all the oil produced worldwide every year. The United States has only 3 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves, making drilling in the ANWR a higher-stakes battlefield. Federal agencies have assessed the issue. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) estimates that the amount of oil that might be recovered and profitably brought to market from the refuge’s coastal plain is only 5.4 billion barrels, based on the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) average forecast price of $28 a barrel over the next 20 years.
Federal lands in Alaska are vast. Roads and people are scarce. Wildlife abounds, unseen by human eyes. The weather can stop most human activities for days at a time, also making travel uncomfortable, risky, and expensive. Economic development around most types of activities such as agribusiness, oil or mineral drilling, logging, tourism, and shipping is equally constrained by the cold, inclement weather and the expense of dealing with it. Without good roads and transportation infrastructure, most economic development suffers, making the prospect of such improvements attractive to many Alaskan communities. However, the federal government was and is the largest landowner and has exerted its power to create and protect its interests.
From the Inupiat perspective, the big fear about oil drilling is that the inevitable noise will drive whales so far offshore they will be impossible to hunt with the limited traditional gear that villagers use.
Between 2009 and 2014 more than 21,000 individual spills involving over 175 million gallons of wastewater were reported in the 11 main oil- and gas-producing states of Alaska, California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. In North Dakota alone, well operators have reported nearly 4,000 spills to the state since 2007.
This was the not the first or last experience pitting oil companies against environmentalists, state interests in economic development against federal interests in preserving wilderness areas, and other opposing interests. Numerous wells have since been drilled and oil fields discovered near the ANWR. Also, the characteristics of the ecosystem and measures of environmental impacts to date have been documented in very similar places nearby.
Ever since Alaska was recognized and accepted by the United States as a state, environmental protection and natural resource use have been at odds. Although Alaska has seemingly limitless natural resources, these exist in fragile tundra and coastal environments. Without roads, logging, mining, or any substantial human development is very difficult. Indigenous peoples of Alaska have, in the past, been self-sufficient, subsisting on the land and water. Subsistence rights to fish, game, and plants as well as ceremonial rights to this food are very important to many indigenous peoples, including bands and tribes in the United States. Therefore Congress passed the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (1980) and established the ANWR. At that time Congress specifically avoided a decision regarding future management of the 1.5-million-acre coastal plain. The controversy pitting the area’s potential oil and gas resources against its importance as wildlife habitat, represented by well-organized environmental interests, was looming large then.
A wealth of wastewater is produced by both conventional wells (those drilled in highly permeable rock formations) and unconventional wells (those that use hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas). And the dramatic increase of fracking in places like North Dakota, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in the past decade has led to a rise in the total volume of wastewater produced. In North Dakota’s Bakken shale alone, wastewater volumes more than doubled during the first few years of the fracking boom, from roughly 1.1 million gallons in 2008 to more than 2.9 million gallons in 2012.
Tribal leaders say the spill never reached the drinking water plant intake. However, for tribe members on the reservation it raised questions about the potential health impacts of leaks and spills of drilling wastewater—questions that are echoed by environmental health researchers who are calling for a closer look at the waste stream produced by oil and gas extraction.
Mr. Brower, whose family has had 32 years of uninterrupted success catching whales, is concerned that these traditions, which have united villagers and helped them survive for centuries, might get lost in an offshore drilling boom.
Environmentalists are concerned about what they see as the unchecked expansion of the oil industry in Alaska. They said they saw no contradiction in their support for native rights, including whaling rights, and their long-term effort to protect whales and other species.
Global warming and climate change greatly affect this particular controversy. Most scientists agree that for every one degree of global warming, the Arctic and Antarctica will warm up by three degrees. The planet has been warming and the Arctic ice is melting. In September 2004 the polar ice cap receded 160 miles away from Alaska’s north coast, creating more and more open water. This has had dramatic environmental impacts in the Arctic because many species from plankton to polar bears follow the ice for survival. The implications of global warming for the ANWR oil-drilling controversy are developing. Environmentalists think such development may make an already sensitive ecosystem even more sensitive. Mosquitoes are now seen further north than ever before. They attack nesting birds that do not leave the nest for long periods and have never been exposed to mosquitoes before. There are many anecdotal reports of species impacts in the Arctic.