Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Truth About ANWR

Apparently I am an "anti-environmentalist."

I had no idea.

I was reading an online article about the new Discovery Channel show "Sarah Palin's Alaska" and found a list of reasons why Palin is considered a notorious anti-environmentalist.

One of the reasons was “Palin pushed to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to unique and diverse arctic species. The protection and preservation of these areas is vital to the world as we know it.”

When I researched ANWR, I discovered that there are many “environmentalist” websites that decry drilling there, but the objections posed have already been debunked.

The truth is the Arctic National Wildlife refuge consists of over 19 million acres of land in the northeast corner of Alaska. The section where they want to drill is a 2,000 acre piece of land in the coastal plain.

It is flat, treeless, almost featureless section of ANWR with nine months of harsh winter and 56 days of total darkness each year. This is not the land pictured on television. Those pictures are of the hills and mountains of the Brooks Range in the southern part of ANWR, where nobody is suggesting we drill for oil.

The U.S. Geological Survey and the federal government's Energy Information Administration estimate that there are possibly 16 billion barrels of oil beneath the surface in the coastal plain. Even at the low end--with about 3.2 billion barrels--the field would be the second-largest ever discovered in the United States.

The first largest is a few hundred miles away at Prudhoe Bay, which was estimated in 1968 to hold 9 billion barrels of oil, but which has produced nearly 13 billion barrels--or 20 to 25 percent of the oil produced in this nation for the last 23 years.

How would drilling affect the animals in this 2,000 acre section of the coastal plain?

Only five species of birds, some polar bears (who den on the Beaufort Sea pack ice) and lemmings (who burrow beneath the snow-pack) remain during the winter. The spring thaw comes in late May or early June. This increases the bird count and brings back the arctic fox and, most significantly, the Porcupine caribou.

While only a portion of the caribou herd shows up each year, many environmental activists refer to the coastal plain as their traditional calving grounds. The females endure the conditions of the tundra for protection against most predators and for the cotton grass that will help to fatten their offspring.
The caribou travel to the coastal plain from Canada, passing near 89 dry wells drilled by the Canadian government and crossing Canada's Dempster Highway--all of which seems to be development that does not hinder their migration or survival.

Our only experiment with oil fields and caribou has taken place nearby on Alaska's North Slope in Prudhoe Bay. The Central Arctic caribou herd that inhabits part of Prudhoe Bay has grown from 6,000 in 1978 to 19,700 today, according to the most recent estimates by state and federal wildlife agencies.
In fact, there is some evidence that the caribou use un-vegetated and elevated sites such as river bars, mud flats, dunes, gravel pads and roads in the existing oil fields as relief habitat from mosquitoes and from oestrid flies that attack their nostrils. The 1995 legislation vetoed by President Clinton would have given the secretary of Interior the power to stop development and exploration during the summer months if there were any threat to the caribou.

Environmentalists also worry about the polar bear, though most biologists will tell you that the bears rarely den on land in this region, preferring the arctic ice. Alaska's polar bear population is healthy and unthreatened. The Marine Mammals Protection Act takes care of the polar bear in the existing oil fields--and would do the same on the coastal plain.

What do these protections mean to the oil workers in Prudhoe Bay? They are not allowed to harm a polar bear. There are steel cages around many of the doors of the facilities in Prudhoe. That way, workers can look off into the distance for bears before they venture out. No polar bear has been injured or killed as a result of extracting oil in Prudhoe Bay.

In fact, there are no listed endangered species on the North Slope or in the coastal plain. Alaskans have always trod lightly on the land and have honored the animals as a source of sustenance.

Those who would develop the coastal plain, including the oil companies, maintain they can do it on about 2,000 acres or less. Exploration and development is done in the harsh winter months, which allows the use of ice airstrips, ice roads and ice platforms. It is done when no caribou are present.
If the well is dry, it is capped. When the ice melts in late spring, there is little remaining evidence of the work--and minimal impact on the land.

The environmentalists say the trade-off isn't good enough to justify the development.

In other words, they don't think there's enough oil there to warrant the exploration.

But wouldn’t the success of nearby Prudhoe Bay make it more likely to be a good investment?

I fail to see how drilling on the coastal plain of ANWR would harm the environment and how supporting the idea makes me an “anti-environmentalist.”

1 comment:

  1. Very well laid out points and research, thanks for the details!