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Should drilling be allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Carling Spelhaug November 18, 2005
Background of the Issue • In 1980, Congress set aside 1.5 of the 19 million acres of land in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for possible oil exploration • Oil companies and Alaskans have been eager to start drilling in the area ever since the land was set aside • Opening the area to oil production has been a top goal of the Bush Administration and a key part of its energy plan since it took office in 2000 • The House of Representatives has passed bills in various forms authorizing drilling five times, but the proposal has been filibustered in the Senate each time because supporters of drilling haven’t been able to come up with the 60 votes necessary to stop the filibuster
Prudhoe Bay • North America’s largest oil field • Located less than 100 miles west of ANWR • Accounts for about 25% of U.S. domestic oil production • Millions of dollars have been spent in the region to increase scientific understanding of Arctic ecosystems and to show that oil production and wildlife can co-exist
Arguments for drilling • Geologists have estimated that 10.4 billion barrels of oil lie beneath a coastal strip of the Alaskan tundra • Because of the war with Iraq, supporters of drilling have emphasized the need for energy security, arguing that drilling in the refuge would reduce American dependence on foreign oil sources
Drilling Supporters • Alaskan politicians have also supported the plan because of one estimate that drilling would bring approximately 700,000 new jobs to the area. • Alaska’s Republican Senator Ted Stevens has called for Congress to follow through on the commitment it made in 1980 to eventually begin extracting oil from the region. • He and other drilling supporters argue that with strict government regulations and the use of modern technology, the oil could be pumped without significant damage to the wildlife of the area. • They emphasize that the amount of land actually used would be small, and the “footprint” left by the oil drilling equipment would cover less than 2,000 acres.
Environmental Concerns • Environmentalists are not convinced that the area affected by the drilling would be limited to 2,000 acres. • They feel that the entire 1.5 million acres of coastal tundra would be touched, affecting polar bears in their dens, calving grounds for caribou, and migratory birds in the area. • 160-180 birds species, 36 types of land mammals, 9 types of marine mammals, and 36 kinds of fish.
Opponents of Drilling • Many Democrats who are against drilling in the refuge argue that the oil extracted from the region would not be enough to significantly impact imports. • Although geologists have estimated that the region could hold 10.4 billion barrels of oil, some environmentalists say there may be no more than about 3.2 billion barrels. • Some have argued that the United States could save more oil than drilling would produce just by passing regulations for SUV fuel economy.
Important Figures • The United States currently imports over 50% of its oil, with complex political and security consequences. • The U.S. is expected to rely on foreign sources for 70% of its oil by 2025. • The United States is the world’s largest consumer of oil, using about 20 million barrels each day.
My Conclusion • Allow drilling, but with regulations and careful monitoring. • The only way to know for certain how much oil could be produced in the region is by beginning drilling. If there isn’t enough available to lessen U.S. demand for foreign oil, the oil companies could be removed from the region. • The experience gained at Prudhoe Bay has provided drilling techniques that minimize the damage done to the environment and the total area affected by the process.
As long as the government sets up a system of monitoring the practices of oil companies in ANWR, the region is a potentially valuable source of oil to be explored. • Only 1.5 million acres, or 8%, of the refuge is being considered for development. The remaining 17.5 million acres would be permanently closed to development, meaning the home of the diverse wildlife would remain largely unaffected. • It will take 10-15 years for contributions from ANWR reserves to reach U.S. market. There is no telling what U.S. relations will be like with the Middle East in a decade, so it makes sense to start cultivating our own energy sources now. • Opening oil production will create many new jobs, especially for Alaskans. 75% of Alaskans support exploration and production in ANWR.
Most Recent Developments • On November 10, 2005, the proposal for drilling in the refuge was dropped from the House budget bill because of issues unrelated to ANWR. • The battle is by no means over, and it is extremely likely the issue will resurface because of the commitment of senators like Ted Stevens and others who support drilling, and the necessity of lessening our reliance on foreign oil. The fact that the nation has a viable option of doing so with ANWR means this issue is going to demand attention, and soon.
Sources • “Arctic refuge drilling on ice, for now.” MSNBC.com. 11 Nov. 2005. http://msnbc.msn.com/id/9984545/ • Anwr.org. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. http://www.anwr.org • “Senate rejects oil drilling in Alaska wildlife refuge.” CNN. 19 Mar. 2003. http://www.cnn.com/2003/ALLPOLITICS/03/19/anwar.vote.ap • Watson, Traci and Tom Kenworthy. “Obstacle to drilling for oil in ANWAR is removed.” USA Today. 17 Nov. 2004. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2004-11-17-oi-drilling_x.htm • Waller, Douglas. “Some Shaky Figures on ANWR Drilling.” Time. 13 Aug. 2001.