March 9, 2011

We should not drill in the ANWR!

Filed under: Uncategorized — publicandprivatespace @ 8:56 am

In today’s society, we are all aware of the importance of different energy sources and just how valuable those energy sources are, to both private individuals and to big, powerful energy companies. A perfect example of this is oil reserves showing up in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve (ANWR). In 1923, 23 million acres known as the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska were set aside as an oil reserve for national security. In 1953, a group of scientists released “The Last Great Wilderness” documenting wildlife in the area and how a refuge should be set up for them. The government responded by setting up an area by Prudhoe Bay for oil and gas production (in addition to the original Nation Petroleum Reserve-Alaska) and an 8.9 million acre wildlife preserve. In 1980, congress passed an act that doubled the wildlife preserve and as part of that, set aside 1.5 million acres were set aside as a Coastal Plain Study Area. This area has revealed a large supply of oil and thus started a great controversy of whether or not we should drill. This controversy has transformed into a political hot point. In the summer of 2011, the average price of a gallon of regular gasoline is expected to reach over $5. This scary prediction has started the discussion of should we or should we not let private companies come in and drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Preserve to try and relieve the cost of oil or should we make the smart decision and preserve the natural beauty of the last great wilderness?

As previously stated, only the 1.5 million acres set aside as part of the Coastal Plain Study Area out of the 19 million acres, could actually be tapped for oil. Big oil companies have discussed about how they could get the most oil out of the ground with being as least intrusive as possible and believe they would only have to touch 1002 acres of land. According to a recent article, big oil companies plans are to set up directional drilling stations which allow pipes to be drilled sideways up to 10 kilometers away, this technique minimizes the amount of surface area oil platforms take up. They have even been environmentally conscious when it comes to waste generated from workers, it will be disposed of with either an incinerator or injected into deep pits. The problem with this method mainly comes from the fact that the drilling stations are located in the middle of nowhere. Because workers are going to need supplies, it is expected that aircraft will need to fly in six to eight times a day resulting in an excess of emissions and noise which has a very strong possibility of effecting migrating species, a strong example of this is the caribou. Before we can worry about caribou though, we have even more problems; oil drilling stations require big, heavy machinery in order to be efficiently run. This means a long caravan of heavy machinery will be sent across the refuge, creating special roads and damaging the vulnerable permafrost by causing the snow above it to melt and drown everything underneath it. Along with vegetation, many other species are at risk if construction is started on oil rigs. From an environmental standpoint, a short list of what would be effected is: the entire habitat is at risk of becoming contaminated and thus would not be able to support the nearly 180 different species of birds, 45 species of mammals, including polar bears, seals and whales, nearly 36 species of fish, and finally cutting into land that the Inupiat and Gwich’in tribes live in. The complete list would take forever to both type and read and due to multiple unknown variables, the only way to tell how big of an effect drilling would create is to actually drill. There is a growing group of people that believe that drilling for oil would be beneficial and bring up several compelling points. A major arguing point for these people is that drilling for oil creates jobs. This is true because a pipeline will need to be constructed from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska. This project alone would create hundreds of jobs over several years between instillation, transportation, and maintaining the land. Once the oil station is complete though the amount of jobs would significantly decrease because computers can control more and more processes, replacing humans and simply reserving them for operating and maintenance jobs. Another huge problem with this solution is that we cannot manage to fully support our nation’s reliance on oil with the ANWR reserves and the amount of oil contained in the ANWR would very quickly run out if we switched over to solely ANWR oil. Another argument stems from the environmental factor, for this argument, they point to the native caribou herd growing from 3,000 to 23,400 in the past 20 years. For this statistic, I saw it’s a positive example; however, they don’t mention any environmental projects to boost the population of caribou which is probably the true reason why the caribou population grew to such a large size. One of their final cases states that it would bring increased revenue to the state. While this increased revenue from taxes placed on the oil would help, the majority of the money would go to the private oil company who is digging it out of the ground, not the people.

Because of legislation, exploration in the region has been restricted to surface geological investigations, aeromagnetic surveys, and two winter seismic surveys (conducted in 1983-84 and 1984-85). So as of this point, we are currently unsure of how much oil is exactly in the ANWR and the only way we could truly know is by drilling into the ground. Although we are limited to how much research we can do, scientists have been able to give us rough estimates to how much oil there is and how much we could actually use. Through their research, we are able to find there are three types of oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Preserve: In-place oil, technically-recoverable oil, and economically recoverable oil. It is probably easy enough to understand, but this list means there is so much oil in the ANWR total, the next type of oil means that we could only technically recover so much oil, and finally the last type of oil refers to how much oil we can extract as an economically feasible option. The problem with this list though, is that as we respectively go down this list, there is considerably less and less oil. The results of the scientist’s research are truly hard to find and it seems like everyone skews the results to better their argument.  The common agreement between both opponents and supports of drilling in the ANWR is that there is about 7.7 billion barrels of technically-recoverable oil underground. The answer to everyone’s question though, of how much oil we could actually use as a financially feasible option varies on the price of oil per barrel. If the price per barrel is $30, we have a good chance of recovering an average of 3.2 billion barrels of oil; however, in order to maintain an economically smart option, the minimum price per barrel is going to be $13 per barrel. Now that we know how much oil we could pull out and be able to put into our cars, products, etc. we need to know how much of an impact this would on our economy. According to most recent figures, the United States used about 20 million barrels of oil per day. This high addiction to oil means that we obviously could not simply cut off our importation of oil, but we could heavily supplement it and greatly reduce the price for a barrel of oil.

Simple economic laws state that the more supply you have to satisfy the demand will create a lower price. Using this thinking one might ask why don’t we drill for oil in the ANWR and lower the already high price of oil? This answer is simple; in order to decide who is allowed to be in the area, survey the area, move all the equipment, set everything up, and finally put oil on the market it would take about ten years. This means that we will have ten years of high oil prices before we can get any reward out of it. Another problem with drilling for oil is that the United States has a free market. This means that a private company will be the only company coming into the area and drilling for oil. It is true that tax revenue will be acquired from allowing private companies in the area, however most of the profit make from drilling will be going directly to an individual’s wallet, not the general public. On any map, it will show the ANWR is property of the United States of America, but it fails to show wildlife that lives on the land. By moving the heavy equipment into the area, we would be disturbing thousands of native species and offset that natural ecosystem of the area. In the end, drilling in the ANWR would create more harm than good and at the end of the day; we will still be going to bed with high oil prices and no permanent solution.

In conclusion, the year is 2011; we are aware that our decades old energy resources are starting to run out. Conventional thinking isn’t giving us an exit strategy and our natural resources are quickly running out. We need to decide if we are going to sacrifice our natural beauty and resources just to lower the price of oil by a couple pennies. In the end, we need to realize our situation, and instead of wasting money on surveying for more oil, we should be spending money on the evolution of our society and develop the next energy source.

Thomas Mooney


  1. Though it is extremely necessary that we begin our development of a new energy source (electric, solar, hydrogen), the ANWR reserve poses an excellent solution to our problems occurring now. To put it into scale, if Alaska was a football field, the ANWR reserve would be a bed sheet on the football field. The area in which there is usable oil would be a calculator on the football field, and the area in which we would actually drill would be a stamp on the calculator, on the blanket, on the football field. As you can see this is an extremely small area. I believe that the benefits of becoming independent on oil (through ANWR and offshore drilling) will have a huge impact on our economy. It will make us independent of the Middle Eastern nations and allow us to set our own price on gasoline as well as bring in a profit. Instead we’re spending trillions of dollars on oil from nations over seas. It is time that we begin drilling in order to solve the problem we face now. We all know that the oil from ANWR wouldn’t last long, but it would give us enough time to switch the majority of transportation over to alternative fuels and resources.

    The other issue in concern with drilling in the ANWR reserve is the effect on wildlife. Many people are concerned that the drills and pipes with harm the wildlife and hinder reproduction and growth. However, it is a proven fact that the pipes circulating through the ANWR reserve would in fact heat the ground in which the pass. This would create better mating areas and actually increase reproduction. Therefore I believe that there is no reason keeping us from drilling in ANWR. It comes down to a matter of priority. People are more concerned with a tiny area of land than they are with our economical independence. We constantly hear complaints about gas prices, well why not utilize the resources we have at home?

    Andrew Henderson

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 10:25 am | Reply

  2. By: Danny Meyer
    If I knew nothing about the current state of our world and just saw the outrageous prices of gas, I would say to go ahead and drill. We are running low and anything to create jobs and cut prices would be outstanding. However, we have no reason to waste any of this oil or even destroy the already unstable environment if there are already alternative ways of energy. That’s the thing, we already have alternative ways of energy. Our government is just afraid to use them because they’re scared of the transition. There is always the thought that it will result in a loss of jobs or even a failure. Yet, there jobs can be replaced by these alternative energies. It gets to a point where we finally need to stop and say this is more than the environment, this is our future. So I do agree with you. This would create much more harm than good. It might not now, but in the long run, it will.

    Comment by publicandprivatespace — March 9, 2011 @ 10:34 am | Reply

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