Drilling for Oil in Alaska Term Paper

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In this regard, Dunn notes that, "These include soil and water contamination from spills; alteration of vegetation and drainage from roads; and the disturbance of subsistence hunting opportunities for muskoxen, polar bears, caribou, and other wildlife. Nor do these new technologies mitigate the atmospheric effects of local haze, acid rain, and global warming" (2). Critics of further exploitation of the Refuge and wilderness maintain that viable alternatives to these resources already exist, and more fuel-efficient vehicles would eliminate the need for additional development of Alaska's pristine environment altogether (Dunn 2).

Proponents suggest that the critics are misplaced in their assumptions about further exploitation, though. According to Lieberman (2005), the ANWR is ripe for plundering and is unworthy of further federal protections: "There are plenty of truly pristine places in Alaska worth preserving, but ANWR's coastal plain isn't one of them. As it is, Alaska has 141 million acres of protected lands, an area equal to the size of California and New York combined" (16). Likewise, Arnold (2001) suggests that there are a number of compelling reasons to permit further exploitation of Alaska's oil and gas reserves, including the following:

Only a tiny portion of the refuge would be explored. About 1.5 million acres (8% of the refuge) on part of its northern coast is being targeted. The 17.5 million-acre remainder will still be permanently off-limits to all development. If oil is discovered, as it is virtually certain to be, less than 2,000 acres of the 1.5 million would be built upon.

U.S. coffers would swell. Federal income would increase by billions of dollars from taxes, lease rentals, bonus bids, and royalties. Bonus bids alone were worth $2.6 billion in 1995.

New jobs. Estimates are that between 250,000 and 735,000 jobs will be created by developing the ANWR's coastal strip.

Economic stimulus. Oil development on Alaska's North Slope contributed over $50 billion to the nation's economy between 1980 and 1994, directly helping all 50 states.

Great chance for a bonanza. The coastal sliver on the ANWR's north coast is America's best possibility for another huge "Prudhoe Bay-- size" oil and gas find. U.S. Department of the Interior estimates range from 4 to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

North Slope production falling. The North Slope oil fields today give the United States almost 25% of its domestic production. But the yield has dwindled from 2 million barrels a day in 1980 to a current level of 1 million a day.

Imported oil too pricey. America buys about 56% of the petroleum it uses from abroad. The cost is more than $55 billion a year, which represents a big portion of the annual trade deficit.

Wildlife-friendly drilling. Oil and gas development has been shown not to hurt local animal and plant populations. For example, during the last 20 years of oil operations, the central arctic caribou herd at Prudhoe Bay has swelled from 3,000 animals to 18,100.

Small-footprint" technology. Big technological advances have caused oil development to shrink. For example, if Prudhoe Bay were built today, it would occupy 1,526 acres, which is 64% smaller than it currently is.

Public support. More than three-quarters of Alaskans back exploration and production in the refuge (Arnold 56).

Despite these assertions, critics suggest that there are numerous animal species in this region of Alaska that would be adversely affected by further development. For instance, according to Gildart (1997), studies in the peer-reviewed scientific literature indicate that further development on the Arctic Refuge's coastal plain would not only represent a threat to caribou and other species that native Alaskans depend on for sustenance, it would "cause major, irreversible changes in the Porcupine herd. Such work could include construction of oil rigs, gravel pads and gravel roads -- as well as operation by hundreds of workers -- in the calving grounds" (20). Likewise, Hoar (2005) emphasizes that, "Alaska's wilderness is a place of frozen tundra, calving caribou, wolves, polar bears, millions of migrating birds and stunning natural beauty. But that has not prevented the U.S. Senate from preparing to open it up for oil and gas exploration that environmentalists warn will have disastrous results" (42). Furthermore, beyond the enormous environmental consequences that would likely result from such unrestricted exploitation of Alaska's oil and gas reserves, this approach is not a long-term solution to the country's growing dependence on foreign oil. As Meadows (2003) points out, "In reality, more drilling on public lands in the Rocky Mountain West and opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (the Arctic Refuge) in Alaska would come at a high environmental and financial cost and do little to answer our country's long-term energy challenges" (47).


The research showed that the ongoing efforts by the current Bush administration to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Range to further development of its known and expected oil and gas reserves have been supported by proponents that claim such development will have a minimal impact on the environment and will go a long way toward helping the United States become more energy self-reliant. While this is a laudable goal, the answer is not Alaska but alternative energy sources and more fuel-efficient vehicles, initiatives that have been stalled by automobile manufacturers and politicians for the past several decades. "Seward's Folly" might appear ripe for the picking to these observers, but the research also showed that the Arctic National Wildlife Range is a one-of-a-kind region of the country and is not an energy piggybank that can be exploited at the whims of politicians and industrialists even though they can hardly wait to get their hands on it. If they do succeed, future generations of Americans will likely regard this initiative as a completely new "folly," and will regret the decision since this environmental impact will be irreversible and new technologies will likely make such exploitation unnecessary. In the final analysis, the U.S. Congress set aside the Arctic National Wildlife Range for good reasons and those reasons are still just as valid today.

Works Cited

Arnold, Andrew. (2001, September). "Oil: America's Expensive Lifeblood - New Oil from Alaska?" World and I 16(9): 56.

Dombrowski, Kirk. Against Culture: Development, Politics, and Religion in Indian Alaska. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

Dunn, Seth. (2001, May). "Why Oil and Wildlife Don't Mix." World Watch 14(3): 2.

Gildart, Ben. (1997, October-November). "Hunting for Their Future: Alaska's Gwich'in Indians Fear That Proposed Oil Drilling on Caribou Calving Grounds Could End Their Ancient Culture." National Wildlife 35(6): 20.

Grover, Todd. (1998). "Arctic Equity? The Supreme Court's Resolution of United States V. Alaska." Environmental Law 28(4): 1169.

Herndon, Mark. (2002). "The Last Frontier: The Last True Wilderness Is Increasingly at Risk in the Current Political Climate, with Calls for Less Dependency on Foreign Oil Focusing Attention on the Alaskan Preserves. Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy 16(4): 72.

Hertsgaard, Mark. (2003, February 3). "Trashing the Environment: Kyoto Was Just a Start for Bush From Opening the Arctic to Oil Drilling to Allowing Snowmobiles in Yellowstone, This Administration Never Saw a Regulation it Didn't Want to Get Rid of." The Nation 276(4): 15.

Hoar, William P. (2005, April 18). "Setback for Energy Foes." The New American 21(8): 42.

Lieberman, Ben. (2005, December 20). "Alaska Oil Drilling Myths." The Washington Times: 16.

Meadows, William H. (2003, September 30). "Q: Should Congress Allow More Drilling…

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