CHE 300

Environmental Science

Dr. J. A. Schneider
Dept. of Chemistry
SUNY Oswego
Oswego, NY 13126

Rm: 237 Snygg Hall
Tel: 315.312.2124
Environmental Investigations: Should the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) Be Opened to Oil and Gas Exploration? by Jeffery A. Schneider, Ph.D.

Issues and Background

After a year of soaring gas pump prices and high home heating costs, many policymakers and analysts want to tap the oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Drilling pristine Alaskan lands is a shortsighted and ineffective strategy tantamount to placing a band-aid over a compound fracture. For long-term solutions that make economic and environmental sense, policymakers should act to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, and to eliminate fuel-economy loopholes for light trucks and SUVs.
Union of Concerned Scientists

Common sense tells us that if we have the capability, we should produce more oil here at home. We do it better, cleaner and more efficiently than other countries - many of which give little consideration to responsible environmental stewardship.
Citizens for a Sound Economy

The question of whether or not to open the ANWR to oil and gas exploration has been at the center of the energy debate between Republicans and Democrats, right and left, big business and environmentalists ever since President Carter signed the Alaska National Interests Land Conservation Act (ANILCA) in 1980, which established the ANWR at its present size. Originally established as an 8.9 million acre area in the northeast corner of Alaska in 1960 by the Eisenhower Administration, President Carter expanded the protected area to 19 million acres. There was however one tiny caveat. Section 1002 of the ANILCA deferred development of a 1.5 million acre tract of the ANWR along the coastal plain, subsequently referred to as "the 1002 area" or "Section 1002". Only an act of Congress can open the area to exploration and development.

As part of the President's energy policy legislation, the U.S. House of Representatives (with a Republican majority) voted in 2001 to allow exploration for oil in 2,000 acres of Section 1002 (ten-oh-two) of the ANWR. The U.S. Senate (with a Democrat majority) recently defeated similar legislation thereby saving the ANWR from drilling, at least temporarily. Conservative columnist George F. Will wrote in a recent article, "If you have an average-size dinner table, four feet by six feet, put a dime on the edge of it. Think of the surface of the table as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. The dime is larger than the piece of coastal plain that would have been opened to drilling for oil and natural gas." To represent the "1002 area" Coastal Plain in this analogy, mark off a section of the table that is roughly 1 foot by 2 feet. While Mr. Will gets his point across, he conveniently forgets to mention that the 2,000 acres doesn't have to be contiguous (i.e. all in one place) and that only the space of the equipment touching the ground is counted. The better analogy would be to take Mr. Will's dime and grind it up into a powder and then spread it across the entire 1-ft x 2-ft section. Then take a marker and draw lines from one speck to the other to represent the roads that will be needed in the area. What you end up with is a dinner table with a 1-ft x 2-ft section covered in marker and dust; i.e. the entire 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain would be impacted by oil and natural gas exploration.

In addition to all of the usual suspects, the native peoples of the area are also at odds with each other over the prospect of drilling in the ANWR. The Inupiat Eskimos who live in and near the ANWR support onshore oil development on the Coastal Plain, while the Gwich'in Indians who also live near the ANWR oppose oil exploration. The Gwich'in culture is centered around the Porcupine River Caribou herd, which every spring migrates to the Coastal Plain to give birth and raise their young. The Gwich'in believe this area to be sacred. Wildlife biologists believe that any disruption, such as that associated with oil exploration, will have profound impacts on the herd. On the other hand, the Inupiat Eskimos believe that on-shore drilling will bring prosperity to the area. The Inupiat have opposed offshore drilling, which shouldn't be surprising because they make their living from the ocean; however they do not oppose disrupting the Gwich'in way-of-life.

Whatever happens in the area is sure to have profound effects, but in either case, the one thing that doesn't change, is that oil will run out. Rather than worry about extending an already diminishing oil supply by a few years, perhaps we should be working toward a future when we won't be dependent on oil. The best way to gain independence from foreign oil is to gain independence from all oil.

Ask Yourself These Questions
  1. Questions
Different Perspectives in the Debate

  • Will Drilling the Arctic Refuge Really Solve Our Oil Woes?
    The Union of Concerned Scientists is an "independent nonprofit alliance of 50,000 concerned citizens and scientists across the country". Their mission is to work for a "cleaner, healthier environment and a safer world". In this article they point out the futility of drilling in the ANWR.
  • Opening Up Section ANWR Could Curb Dependence On Foreign Oil, Ease Future Gas Crunches
    Citizens for a Sound Economy is a grassroots organization that "recruits, educates, trains and mobilizes hundreds of thousands of volunteer activists to fight for less government, lower taxes, and more freedom". They believe that opening the ANWR to oil drilling is the key to our independence from foreign oil.
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
    This is the official website of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The site has lots of good information throughout: facts, figures, maps, etc.
  • U.S.G.S. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998
    This is the definitive study done by the U.S. Geological Survey that determined how much oil is probably under the Coastal Plain of the ANWR. It is also the same study that oil companies and environmentalists alike use to support their arguments.
  • History of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
    One Earth Adventures is an organization that supports the first-hand discovery of the earth by adventurers. These adventurers then share their experiences with the rest of us. Here, Amy Gulick discovers the ANWR and gives us an excellent history of the region.
  • Being Green At Ben & Jerry's by George F. Will
    George Will claims "Some environmental policies are feel-good indulgences for an era of energy abundances", which might lead some to ask, "If energy is so abundant, why do we need to open the ANWR to drilling?" He also claims ANWR could produce oil for 25 years "at least as much as America currently imports from Saudi Arabia". What he doesn't tell us is that at current U.S. rates of consumption (about 20 million barrels per day), even the highest projected amount of oil in the ANWR only lasts for TWO years.
  • Worried About Oil Prices? ANWR Equals 30 Years of Saudi Oil
    This is another site claiming that there is 30 years worth of Saudi oil in the ANWR. Unfortunately these claims don't take into account that as the population of the U.S. increases, oil consumption will also increase, leaving us well short of 30 years supply.
  • Making the Case for ANWR Development
    This article argues in favor of drilling in the ANWR in order to free us from our dependence on foreign oil. As arguments they use promises of economic stability of oil and gas prices, the creation of jobs and the preservation of the environment. Yes, that's correct, they claim that foreign oil is "produced and shipped under less strict environmental standards than domestic oil" even though all tankers entering U.S. waters must meet U.S. standards.
  • Top Ten Reasons to Support Development in ANWR (pro)
    Alaska Wilderness League - Myths and Facts (con)
    These two sites go hand in hand. They offer arguments for and against drilling in the ANWR, respectively. It's a better read if you go to the sites in the order given.
  • Canada Urges Wilderness Protection for the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
    The Canadian government is concerned about drilling in the ANWR because by agreement, the U.S. and Canada have signed an "Agreement on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou herd" in 1987. The Canadians have protected the area directly bordering the eastern edge of the ANWR by establishing two national parks. It would appear that drilling in the ANWR goes against this agreement.
  • ANWR Apathy
    Sam MacDonald explores why we should even care about the ANWR. In his article he takes a critical look at the arguments for and against.
  • Some Shaky Figures on ANWR Drilling,9565,170983,00.html
    Time Magazine columnist Douglass Waller takes the oil industry to task in this article from August 2001 in which he informs readers that the 2,000 acres under consideration for oil exploration does not have to be contiguous and that only the space of the equipment actually touching the ground has to be included.
  • Facing the United States' Oil Supply Problems: Would Opening Up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) Coastal Plain Really Make A Difference?
    James MacKenzie uses arguments based on national security needs to effectively show that any oil from the ANWR will make little difference toward alleviating the United States' dependence on foreign oil.
  • Northern Alaska Environmental Center - Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
    This is the site for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center whose aim is to preserve and protect wilderness, natural habitats and the quality of life in interior and arctic Alaska through advocacy and education.
  • Sierra Club - Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
    This is an excellent website that addresses all of the concerns that environmentalists have concerning drilling in the ANWR. Visitors can take a virtual tour of the ANWR, learn about President Bush's energy plan and have some of the myths surrounding the debate dispelled.
  • Audubon Society - The Last Great Wilderness
    In this feature article of the Audubon Society's website, author "Susan McGrath travels to 'the biological heart of the refuge' to unlock the mystery of its astonishing fecundity, and its importance to caribou, polar bears, and millions of migrating birds". This is a very informative article.
  • Arctic Protection Network - The Arctic Refuge
    The Arctic Protection Network is a grassroots organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area that is dedicated to protecting the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling. At this site you can learn about the politics of the debate as well as learn more about the native peoples that live in and near the ANWR.
  • Gwich'in Steering Committee
    This is the official website of the Gwich'in Steering Committee, which was formed in 1988 as the result of a meeting of the Gwich'in Indian People. At the meeting they resolved to oppose oil development because it would "harm the caribou and threaten our future".

All material (except for some code and external links) © Jeffery A. Schneider, 2003