Posted by Chris M Monday, November 8, 2004

Drilling in ANWR

An essay I wrote for college 2 years ago. I updated for today's oil prices. Counters most pro-ANWR drilling arguments, IMHO

Oil has been an important resource in the world for more than 100 years.  Nearly every aspect of modern life is influenced by it. With the war in Iraq, the old issue of the relationship of the Middle East and the United States in the business of oil has come to the forefront. Many are advancing the idea of drilling in Alaska's ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Range). This issue is once again forcing people to debate the benefits and costs of economic freedom and prosperity against environmental harm on Alaska's North Slope.

One of the principle arguments that proponents of oil drilling in ANWR use is that it will reduce the dependence of the United States on foreign oil, especially that of OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries).
....U.S. dependence on imported oil is another important factor in the ANWR debate. Development supporters cite recent oil import levels of 57% of the U.S. market, and project increases to 65% by 2020.(Corn and Gelb)
From this they reason that, instead of being at the will of OPEC, the United States should increase domestic drilling and thereby decrease foreign dependence. Although it is true that OPEC can influence the world oil market, it cannot "starve" the United States since
Only a quarter of the oil consumed in the United States now comes from OPEC members. (Lovins and Lovins)
The last time that the United States was in the position of rapidly rising oil prices was from the late seventies to the middles eighties.
From 1979 to 1986, GDP grew 20 percent while total energy use fell by 5 percent.(Lovins and Lovins)
A drop in total energy use coupled with a rise in the United States economy was the result of energy conservation, improved energy efficiency, and more domestic drilling. This increase in the oil production of the United States did help with the energy crisis of the mid 1970's to the mid 1980's, but times have changed.
Since then drilling in the United States has become significantly more difficult.
The United States has exploited its reserves longer and more fully than has any other nation, so the essence of its oil problem is that finding and lifting the next barrel typically costs more at home than abroad. (Lovins and Lovins)
The economic viability of ANWR drilling is no exception to this issue. According to the United States Geological Survey 1998 Petroleum Assessment there are an estimated 4.3 billion barrels (95% chance of that amount) to 9.8 billion barrels (5% chance of that amount) with an expected value of 7.7 billion barrels. However, with a market price of $50, only 7 billion barrels would be economically viable (Bird and Houseknecht). The United States daily oil consumption is 20.04 million barrels per day (Annual Energy Review); therefore, at peak capacity the ANWR reserves would only satisfy 6.84% of the country's demand for oil and would only do so for only 14 years. But such levels of production could not occur until after about ten years of development (Taylor). This would barely make a dent in the United States oil consumption, and it would still sell at the same price of OPEC oil!

Ignoring many of the economic ramifications of the issue, environmental groups are opposed to ANWR drilling because of harm it would certainly cause to the delicate ecosystems. ANWR is a mixture of tundra, boreal forests, and mountains.
...the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge includes nearly 20 million acres (the size of South Carolina), three wild rivers, and the largest designated wilderness (8 million acres) in the National Wildlife Refuge System. (Official)
Environmental groups state that ANWR is one of the last pristine, untouched locations not only in the United States, but of also in the entire world. Drilling proponents are quick to point out that ANWR is currently not untouched by man.
Development advocates counter this argument by arguing that the 1002 area (the part of ANWR where drilling would occur) is not pristine. They note the presence of the native village of Kaktovik, the nearby DEWline (Distant Early Warning line, for missile detection) station... and the remnants of former or uncompleted DEWline installations scattered in or near the 1002 area. Together with Kaktovik, the DEW site operates a garbage dump and a runway.(Corn and Gelb)
But regardless of the current state of ANWR the most important issue is how completely can the landscape be returned to its natural state once the drilling is finished. The harsh climate of northern Alaska complicates the issue.
Recovery... might then take substantially longer in the harsh Arctic environment... rehabilitation that would not begin until 2070 or 2100.(Corn and Gelb)
The problem may not be one of ours but of the next generations. Drilling advocates use this fact to explain that in the future new types of clean up methods will be available. Since the first USGS study of the 1987 clean up methods have improved, but, using this logic, we should increase nuclear energy because we will find a way to dispose of it in a clean way sometime.
Furthermore, some types of cleanup might not be desirable or practical deep gravel production pads, for example, might be impossible to remove without further damage, and thus might necessarily become a permanent feature of the landscape. (Corn and Gelb)
Just because we can clean it up does not mean that we will not also effect the environment in the course of the clean up. In a ecosystem such as in ANWR any human activity may effect it in ways not yet discovered.

Economists and environmental groups have often been at odds about oil drilling. However, concerning ANWR, a partnership has been formed between those two groups, with the economists questioning the economic viability of drilling in the distant and remote lands and environmental advocates on the side of protecting the environment. Even conservative economic think-tanks, such as the Cato Institute have worries."Even if you're happy digging up the tundra, there's little reason to think that drilling in ANWR will do much to bring down energy prices" (Taylor). The support seems to only be hard-core Bush energy plan supporters. The facts are that the small amount of oil would have little effect on gasoline prices. Even if it would only slightly affect the environment, would it be worth the barely detectable impact it would have on our economy? In an increasingly technological world, is it important to have a place where human impact is at a minimum? After the matter of drilling in ANWR is settled this last question will still be an important issue for years to come.&

Corn, M. Lynne, and Bernard A. Gelb. "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: The Next Chapter."Congressional Research Service Reports.August 2001.

Energy Information Administration.  "Annual Energy Review."

Lovins, Amory, and Hunter Lovins. "Fools Gold in Alaska." Foreign Affairs July-August. 2001:72-86.

Taylor, Jerry. "Just Say "No" to the Energy Plan."National Review Online.18 May 2001.n. pag.

United States Fish and Wildlife Service. "Official Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Site" 30 Aug. 2001

United States Geological Survey. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998, Including Economic Analysis.". By Kenneth Bird