With frequent power cuts in states such as California and increasing gasoline prices there is an increased demand for energy. The federal government under President George W. Bush has put forth the strategy of increasing the energy supply by tapping the oil supply at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Northeast Alaska. This proposal has met with a lot of opposition from environmentalists and the few inhabitants of the snow tundra.
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The environmentalists argue that oil drilling in Alaska will cause extensive environmental damage and that the available oil supply in Alaska will not be sufficient enough to justify the potential environmental damage. Thus this issue has been widely debated. Thesis: The energy crisis cannot be resolved by oil drilling but only by reducing oil consumption and oil drilling will only bring more harm to the Arctic region by destroying its wildlife and natural landscape.
White Evon Peter, a Gwich’in Native American from the southern fringes of the wildlife refuge, perceives oil drilling in this region as a disruption to the rule of nature. Public opinion is also against drilling. According to a recent TIME/CNN poll, a majority of those surveyed, 52% said they oppose drilling there, while 41% were in favor (McCarthy, 2001). Environmental groups that oppose oil drilling say that the oil deposits in Alaska could last only for less than a six-month domestic supply and hence it’s not worth the destruction to nature.
One of the arguments put forth by Senator Frank Murkowski of Alaska, is that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge’s coastal plain has nothing but snow and ice and hence drilling for oil is such a deserted region could not harm anyone. According to the United States Geological Service (USGS)’s most recent assessment, this area has approximately 11.6 to 31.5 BBO. By tapping into this resource, there will be reduced dependence on Middle East Oil. United States imports more than 60% of its needed petroleum, costs of which exceed $100 billion a year (Stanke, 2001). Moreover oil is being drilled successfully at a neighboring region, the Prudhoe Bay.
Supporters of oil drilling hold that the 1002 Area (ANWR) oil could provide the equivalence of 30 years of imported petroleum from Saudi Arabia and they also hold that with recent advances in science and technology, it is possible for oil drilling and wild life to co exist together. They point to the thirty-year-plus operation at nearby Prudhoe Bay, accompanied by a concurrent rise in the caribou population in the area, as evidence that wildlife can thrive in an industrialized area.
The Arctic area called as the ANWR region was established by President Eisenhower in 1960 as America’s last unspoiled frontier and doubled in size by the Carter administration in 1980. The area is richly populated by wildlife such as caribou, moose, musk oxen, wolves, foxes, grizzles and polar bears and is a destination for migratory birds as well (EIS, 1987). Wildlife-management experts have voiced their concern that winter activities of oil companies could cause harm to pregnant female polar bears along the shoreline (Lentfer, 2001) and some animals such as musk oxen and grizzlies may be driven away from their natural habitats.
Most significantly, there are more than 130,000 caribou of the Porcupine herd in the region which migrates each spring onto the coastal plain to calve. Environmentalists fear that if oil drilling is allowed to take place in the region the migration of caribou will be disrupted. Foliage and vegetation in the 1002 Area is also vulnerable to the impacts of exploration and production activities (Stanke, 2002).
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Millions of barrels of oil are being extracted at a neighboring place Prudhoe Bay. As a result of oil drilling Prudhoe is lighted with industrial light, polluted with steam belches from plants eight stories high and there is a lot of heat generated as a result of bulldozers, traffic on roads that link the 170 drilling sites along the coast and flames from natural gas flares (McCarthy, 2001). Moreover, in the Prudhoe area, grizzlies have often relocated and sometimes shot when found troublesome (McCarthy, 2001). From the example of oil drilling at Prudhoe Bay it is evident that oil drilling can lead to destruction of the natural landscape.
The Inupiat, Issac Akootchook, 78, former whale hunter who lives in the region believes oil revenues and land-rental fees from oil companies will raise the living standards of the local people. In fact, Alaska residents do not pay any income tax or sales tax and get an annual dividend from the state’s oil earnings – in 2000 it was roughly $2,000 for every man, woman and child (McCarthy, 2001). Hence, drilling in ANWR is widely supported by the Alaskans. But he agrees that there is the danger that oil companies might choose to move offshore in the future, in which case there would be damage to the environment for whales that the Inupiat hunt in summer (McCarthy, 2001).
The plan for oil drilling is based on the strategy of increasing supply of energy rather than reduce energy consumption. The ultimate solution to the energy crisis would be to have an energy plan that frees the United States from its dependence on oil from the Middle East by reducing the use of automobiles ceaselessly (Stanke, 2002). As long as the energy consumption continues at this frantic level, it will empty all American reserves of oil including the ANWR Coastal Plain. Thus oil drilling in the Alaska cannot be the answer to the issue of energy crisis.
With the advances in technology, the world today needs more and more of fuel energy. Oil drilling in the Arctic is a suggested proposal aimed at providing oil to face the energy crisis. As a side benefit, it can bring prosperity to the Alaskans living in that region. However, reasoning shows that just increasing the supply of oil will not help in resolving the energy crisis. The need of the hour is to slow down energy consumption. Prosperity in terms of money will not bring stability and happiness to the locals who depend on natural animals such as caribou and whales for their food. Oil drilling in Alaska can destroy the natural landscape and wildlife in the region. This clearly indicates that oil drilling in Alaska is not a suitable option for resolving the energy crisis.
EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) (1987). U.S. Dept. of the Interior Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Alaska, Coastal Plain Assessment Report and Recommended to the Congress of the United States and Final Environmental Impact Statement 1.
Lentfer, Jack (2001). Addressed to House Committee on Resources, Hearing on Republican Energy Bill “Energy Security Act”. Web.
McCarthy, Terry (2001). War over Arctic Oil. Time Magazine.
Stanke, Samuel (2002). Like Wilderness, but Need Oil? Securing America’s Future Energy Act Puts Little between Accident-Prone Oil Companies and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Environmental Law. Volume: 32. Issue: 4.