Should energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be developed

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Should energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be developed?

Viewpoint: Yes, energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be developed because dependence on foreign resources poses a serious threat to the security of the United States.

Viewpoint: No, energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be developed because the gain would be minimal and the cost to the environment unacceptable.

When the first major oil strike occurred, at Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, the momentous character of the event could hardly have been appreciated. There were no automobiles then, nor could anyone have imagined the importance that petroleum would acquire within three-quarters of a century. Even if they had, most observers would have presumed that America had all the oil supplies it needed.

At that time, paleontologists were just beginning to understand the fact that dinosaurs had once ruled the planet. It would be years before scientists understood that the deposition of their bodies in the earth—the result of a great cataclysm some 65 million years ago—had provided Earth's "new" human rulers with a vast but nonetheless limited supply of energy in the form of petroleum.

Likewise it would be years before prospectors began to discover ever more abundant supplies of oil on U.S. soil, first in Texas and surrounding states, and later in Alaska. Also in the future lay the discovery of even more impressive reserves in the Middle East, a region that until the mid-twentieth century was economically impoverished and geopolitically insignificant.

By 1973, much had changed. America and other industrialized nations had millions of cars on the road and regularly imported millions of barrels of crude oil from Saudi Arabia and other nations, which—because of their vast oil wealth—had become powerful players on the international scene. In 1973, Americans would be forced to confront their dependence on foreign oil. That was the year when the Organization of Oil-Exporting Countries (OPEC), composed primarily of Arab nations, placed an embargo on oil sales to the United States in retaliation for U.S. support of Israel. The results were disastrous: suddenly scarce, petroleum was in high demand, and anyone who lived through that time can recall the long lines at the gas pumps, the frustration of cancelled family trips, the exigencies of enforced conservation, and the fears raised by dependency on hostile foreign powers for the fuel that literally runs our nation.

Those fears subsided somewhat with the conclusion of the embargo—unsuccessful inasmuch as it failed to sway U.S. policy in the Middle East—but they have resurfaced again and again over the years. One of the most dramatic instances of such resurfacing occurred after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Though a small band of Muslim extremists actually carried out these acts, the subsequent response by a large segment of the Arab world—most notably, a refusal to wholeheartedly condemn the terrorists' actions—once again gave notice to Americans that their trade agreements with Saudi Arabia and other oil-exporting Arab nations could break down at any time.

In the eyes of many Americans, three decades of strained relations with the Arab world only served to reinforce the need to develop oil resources on U.S. soil. By that time, most economically viable reserves in the continental United States had been tapped, but Alaska still presented a potentially rewarding frontier for future exploration. In response to the embargo of 1973, America stepped up its efforts to extract oil from Alaska.

Significant oil reserves had first been discovered along the shores of the Arctic Ocean in 1968, but the lack of infrastructure (including roads) in that largely uninhabited region had presented an impediment to exploitation of those reserves. Then, in 1969, a group of petroleum companies paid the state $1 billion for drilling rights and proposed the building of a pipeline. Opposed by environmentalists, the proposed pipeline had gone unbuilt, however, until November 1973, a month after the Arabs imposed the embargo, at which point Congress authorized the construction of a 789-mi (1,262-km) pipeline.

The pipeline made possible the transport of oil from the Prudhoe Bay oil field on the Arctic coast to the harbor at Valdez, from whence oil tankers transported it to the ports on the West Coast of the United States. However, environmental concerns remained, and loomed greater in the years that followed. In part, this was due to the growth of an increasingly powerful and politically forceful environmental movement, which was still in its infancy at the time the original pipeline was proposed. But concerns over the threat posed to the Alaskan wilderness by the extraction and transport of oil had also spread far beyond the limits of the environmentalist movement to the population as a whole. This was particularly the case after the 1989 disaster of the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker that ran aground off of Prince William Sound, causing the worst oil spill in the history of North America and doing immeasurable damage to the environment.

Such was the state of affairs at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, the setting for a renewed debate—involving scientists, politicians, oil companies, state officials, native groups, environmentalists, and the public at large—concerning the exploitation of oil resources in Alaska. At issue was the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a wilderness of some 19 million acres (29,688 square mi or 76,891 square km—about the size of Maine) protected since 1960 by an act of Congress. Within ANWR is a shoreline region designated as 1002 Area, estimated to contain between 16 billion and 32 billion barrels of oil. (A barrel is equal to 23.1 gallons, or 159 liters.)

In the essays that follow, arguments are made, based on scientific speculation regarding the recoverability of resources, both for and against the development of energy resources in ANWR. In other words, not all arguments against drilling necessarily revolve around environmental concerns alone, and not all arguments in favor of it are based purely on concerns for national security. Obviously, those two positions—the environment on one hand, and national security on the other—play a major role in governing one's views on the advisability of exploiting the resources at ANWR. However, at heart the question is one of costs versus benefits.

On the one hand, there are the costs involved in the impact on the environment, as well as on the lives of native peoples. Furthermore, there is the sheer economic cost of extraction and development of ANWR reserves against the economic and political benefits to be accrued from those actions. On the other hand, there is the political cost of dependence on oil exported by increasingly hostile nations, combined with the potential economic benefits, both to the state of Alaska and to the nation as a whole.


Viewpoint: Yes, energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should be developed, because dependence on foreign resources poses a serious threat to the security of the United States.

For the last 40 years of the twentieth century and into the first decade of the twenty-first century, drilling for oil in the Coastal Plain of the 19 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been strongly debated. The ANWR, located in northeastern Alaska, is an area abundant with fauna and flora, and rich with oil potential. Energy experts agree that the Coastal Plain (commonly called 1002 Area) is currently the most promising domestic onshore oil and gas prospect. The consensus of most petroleum geologists is that its potential is on the order of billions of barrels of recoverable oil and trillions of cubic feet of recoverable gas.

Opponents, Proponents, and the Government

Since 1985 oil and gas leasing on this federally owned land, administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (within the Department of the Interior), has been banned. Exploration and development of oil and gas are supported by the oil companies and by the majority of Alaskan officials and citizens, but has been opposed by many environmental organizations. The inhabitants of the area, the Inupiat Eskimos and Gwich'in Indians, are also actively involved since they have a direct economic relationship to the land, and to its wildlife and other natural resources. The U.S. Congress will ultimately decide whether to open up the ANWR for oil exploration and development.

ANWR Development

Domestic oil production, which has declined from nearly 9 million barrels per day in 1985 to about 5.9 million barrels per day in 2001, is projected to decline to less than 5 million barrels per day in 2010. Even with only a modest growth in demand, the deficit at that time in U.S. supplies (the difference between domestic supply and demand) is estimated by the National Association of State Energy Officials to be around 10 million barrels per day. The deficit can only be made up by new discoveries or imports. As a result, it is the contention of this article that the energy resources of the ANWR be developed. The basic arguments for developing the ANWR energy reserves are as follows:

  • Small fractional area affected: less than 8% of the ANWR will be open for oil drilling and production
  • Security and energy independence: increasing oil imports present a threat to U.S. security, so increased domestic supplies helpminimize that security threat and increase self-reliance
  • Safe technology: advances in energy exploration could be safely applied, greatly reducing the environmental impact caused by arctic oil development
  • Economic advantages: development will increase both Alaskan and U.S. oil production, add usability to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, create Alaskan jobs and employment nationwide, improve the Alaskan economy, and raise the U.S. gross national product by billions of dollars
  • Best chance for discovery: contains the best prospect for significant U.S. oil discovery
  • Major support in Alaska: the majority of its citizens favor development

Small Fractional Area Affected

Under federal law, 17.5 million acres (about 92%) of ANWR will remain permanently closed to all development. The remaining 1.5 million acres (about 8%) on the northern Coastal Plain of ANWR is the only area being considered for development. If oil drilling commenced, less than one half of one percent, or about 2,000-5,000 acres, of the 1.5 million acres of the Coastal Plain would be directly affected. According to Senator Frank Murkowski (R-AK), the actual area in the ANWR covered by such structures as drilling rigs, buildings, and roads would be less than the size of the Anchorage International Airport.

Security and Energy Independence

The 11 countries of OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) account for more than 40% of the world's annual oil production and possess about 75% of the proven reserves. At the time of the 1973 Arab oil embargo, the United Stated imported only 36% of its oil. As of 2001, the U.S. imported, according to the American Petroleum Institute, a little over 55% of the oil needed domestically. Experts at the Department of Energy are expecting the import percentage to increase from 55% to 65% by the year 2020.

Oil Prices.

Little interest was given to oil potential in ANWR when oil prices were low. However, in 1999, OPEC and other oil-exporting nations agreed to cut oil production. Within five months world oil prices went from $10 to $33 per barrel; but leveled off in 2001 to about $26. Consequently, interest in Alaskan oil, and especially in ANWR development, has drastically increased. Recent OPEC production agreements have renewed calls for U.S. policies that might reduce dependence on foreign oil and help with uncertainties in energy markets due to continuing Middle East crises.

Declining Domestic Production.

United States oil production has steadily declined since its peak in 1973. ANWR development would alleviate current oil supply problems. According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), peak annual ANWR production—assuming that 9.4 billion barrels of petroleum are recoverable at a market price of $24 per barrel—would be approximately 1.4 million barrels per day, compared with projected U.S. oil imports of 15.3 million barrels per day and total oil use of 24.3 million barrels per day in 2015. (The level and timing of peak production would depend upon the rate at which the ANWR oil fields are developed; according to the EIA, from the time of approval to first production would be from 7 to 12 years.) Supporters of development argue that ANWR oil would reduce dependence on foreign sources, and that the additional incremental supply could be crucial in determining oil prices. At the upper estimate, the U.S. Geological Survey projects that ANWR reserves could total as much as 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil, an amount that represents all the oil currently imported from Saudi Arabia for the last 30 years.

Safe Arctic Technology

New petroleum technology, including advances in computing and exploration methods, developed since the early 1970s will allow companies to tap underground reservoirs with a much smaller surface impact. Senator Murkowski recently said that through such technologies oil companies could safely develop a manageable "footprint" (the area occupied by infrastructure) in order to protect the surrounding environment and the ecology. If the Prudhoe Bay oil fields were built today using the latest techniques, the footprint would be 1,526 acres, 64% smaller than when actually built. In addition, millions of dollars of research on wildlife resources and their habitat on Alaska's North Slope have greatly increased the scientific understanding of arctic ecosystems and have also shown that wildlife and petroleum extraction can coexist.

The indigenous Gwich'in Indians are most apprehensive about oil development in the Refuge because they depend on the barren-ground caribou of the Porcupine herd for food. They fear that ANWR development would disrupt the caribou's calving grounds and diminish their food supplies. However, Department of Interior Secretary Gale Norton stated in 2002 that the wildlife of the ANWR can be adequately protected and America's treaty obligations with native tribes would not be violated by oil exploration in the ANWR chiefly due to improvements in oil-drilling technology.

Proponents of drilling point to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay and Kuparuk, both about 60 mi (100 km) west of the Refuge, and the central Arctic caribou herd. According to Pat Valkenberg, a research coordinator with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, the herd has increased its numbers from 15,000 in 1985 to 27,100 in 2000 despite several hundred miles of roads and more than a thousand miles of elevated pipe.

As mentioned previously, drilling in the ANWR can now be accomplished with far less impact than could have been possible using older technology. Among the improvements are smaller gravel pads to support the wells, greater distances that can be reached from a single (draining) pad, the re-injection of drilling wastes (eliminating the need for large waste pits), and a reduction in the need for gravel roads. In addition, other improvements include three-dimensional seismic exploration, four-dimensional time-lapse imaging, ground-penetrating radar, and enhanced computer processing of resulting data on geological structures. According to the Energy Department, these latter improvements have increased the number of successful wells from about 10% to as much as 50%, resulting in a decrease in the number of pads and exploration costs. Together, these advances decrease the developmental impact.

Economic Advantages

Between 1980 and 1994, Alaska's North Slope (ANS) oil field development and production activity contributed over $50 billion to the U.S. economy. The oil-rich region extended eastward from the 2-billion-barrel Kuparuk River field, past the Prudhoe Bay field (originally 11 billion barrels, now down to about 4 billion barrels), and a few smaller fields (such as Lisburne and Endicott), and in all likelihood extends through ANWR's 1002 Area. With the close proximity of these current oil resources, it is believed that the ANWR could easily contain the largest un-drilled, petroleum potential known in the United States.

The state of Alaska is already strongly tied to oil with regards to its revenue base. The Prudhoe Bay field, the largest single accumulation of oil ever discovered in North America, is located on lands owned by Alaska. The proportion of the state budget utilizing petroleum revenues has risen from an annual average of 12%, initially in 1968, to 90% 15 years later, and currently holds at 80%. According to Arctic Power, an Alaskan nonprofit organization, since 1987 the North Slope oil fields have provided the country with nearly 20% of its domestic production. But its actual production has been on the decline during that same period. Peak production was reached in 1980 with 2 million barrels per day, but is currently at nearly 1.2 million barrels per day. By 2010 oil flow is predicted to drop to just 315,000 barrels per day, and no new fields have been identified to compensate for the decline.

Industry interest in the 1002 Area is based in part in keeping the Trans-Alaska Pipeline operating efficiently. Oil is transported from the North Slope by the 800-mi (1,290-km) system, from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez in south-central Alaska, where it is then transferred to tankers. Pipeline costs are largely fixed; a smaller flow of oil means higher pipeline rates per barrel.

Both the national and Alaskan state governments have important political and economic reasons to develop natural resources and assist those corporations extracting them. Revenues (estimated in the billions of dollars in the form of bonus bids, lease rentals, royalties, and taxes) and employment (estimated by Senator Murkowski to create between 250,000 and 735,000 jobs) from such companies are central to their financial welfare. Backed by the majority of Alaskans, two U.S. senators and one house representative from Alaska are strong advocates of oil development in the ANWR in order to meet the state's economic needs.

Best Chance for Discovery

Mark Rubin of the American Petroleum Institute says that ANWR is the best place to look for domestic oil. The Coastal Plain lies between two known major discovery areas. To the west, the Prudhoe Bay, Lisburne, Endicott, Milne Point, and Kuparuk oil fields are currently in production. To the east, major discoveries have been made in Canada, near the Mackenzie River delta, and in the Beaufort Sea. Rubin adds that if current predictions hold, then there is more oil in ANWR than any other place in the United States. Petroleum geologists agree that the Coastal Plain is America's best possibility for a major discovery like the giant "Prudhoe Bay-sized" discovery. Estimates from the Department of Interior range from just under 6 to upwards of 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil.

Majority Support in Alaska

According to a February 2000 poll performed by the Dittman Research Company, more than 75% of Alaskans favor exploration and production of the oil reserves in ANWR as long as it is done in an environmentally sound way that keeps land disturbances to a minimum. According to a poll taken by the Los Angeles Times between January 31 and February 3, 2002 (and backed by earlier polls with similar results), 48% of all Americans favor opening a part of the ANWR to energy exploration. Alaska Democratic Party Chairman Scott Sterling said that he supports oil drilling in ANWR as long as wildlife is protected.

The Inupiat people of the North Slope have called the Arctic their home for thousands of years. They have depended on Alaska's North Slope and the area within the ANWR for their very lives. The majority of Inupiat Eskimos support onshore oil development on the Coastal Plain. These partial-subsistence hunters will gain financially (by providing jobs, schools, and a better economy) from leasing ANWR's potentially rich land to the oil companies. On the other hand, the Inupiat people fear the potential disruption of wildlife and their way of life. However, former Inupiat Mayor Benjamin P. Nageak said that since the first discovery of oil in 1969 the oil companies have consistently met the strict standards and regulations that were imposed on them in order to protect the land. Nageak went on to say that his people have the greatest stake possible in seeing that all development is performed in an environmentally safe way.

Oil-Dependent United States

Oil development in the ANWR could yield up to 16 billion barrels of oil. The U.S. economy is highly dependent on oil and because of this the country is currently importing over half its oil, much from the Middle East. Conservation and renewable energy have great potential, but for today and for many years to come, oil will be a major source of energy. While it may be gratifying for some to strongly resist drilling in sensitive areas, it is naïve to ignore the national security and economic benefits that ANWR oil extraction can provide. Rather than trying to prevent the inevitable, ecologists (and others sensitive to the environment) should work hard to design and implement enforceable environmental standards for drilling in sensitive areas such as ANWR. Because the United States—at least for the foreseeable future—is so dependent on petroleum, the energy resources of the ANWR should be developed.


Viewpoint: No, energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge should not be developed, because the gain would be minimal and the cost to the environment unacceptable.


Early explorers to the North Slope of Alaska often noted oil seeps and oil-stained sands on the surface. Yet it was not until 1944 that oil exploration began in earnest on 23 million acres of what was then called Naval Petroleum Reserve Number 4 in northwestern Alaska.

In 1968, North America's largest oil field was discovered near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. The Trans-Alaska pipeline was finished in 1977. By 1981, the oil fields around Prudhoe Bay, Endicott, and offshore in the Beaufort Sea, yielded about 1.7 million barrels of oil per day—about 25% of U.S. domestic production. By 1988, these oil fields showed signs of exhaustion and oil yields declined. No new oil fields have been discovered in this area.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, oil companies leasing off-and onshore sites farther east announced the potential for oil drilling on these holdings. These sites are situated in or just offshore of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), designated by Congress in 1960 as an 8.9-million acre protected wilderness. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA, 1980) doubled ANWR's size, but omitted protection for the shoreline region known as 1002 Area, pending further research into its oil-production potential and its effects on wildlife. This region is the main focus of interest for oil companies and conservationists. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has analyzed the region's energy potential, and found that ANWR and 1002 Area do contain oil. The questions remain, though, about whether it is economically feasible to recover it.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) meanwhile conducted numerous studies to assess the effects of oil exploration and extraction on ANWR's wildlife. They concluded that resource exploitation would seriously affect the Porcupine herd of caribou, destroy polar bear den areas, and disrupt key breeding bird sites.

How Much Oil Is There?

There is oil under ANWR. But the first two questions that need to be answered are: "How much is there?" and "Is it economically and technically feasible to extract it?"

The most reliable studies of potential oil deposits under ANWR have been conducted by the USGS. The agency assessed the potential for technically recoverable oil in ANWR and in 1002 Area. The agency has reported that there are three likely scenarios surrounding the amount and recoverability of the oil.

Scenario 1: Most Likely, Most Recoverable, Least Amount.

There is a 95% probability of finding 5.7 billion barrels of recoverable oil from ANWR's Coastal Plain. Peak production rates for this scenario are estimated between 250 and 400 million barrels per year.

Scenario 2: The Mean.

There is a 50% probability of finding 10.3 billion barrels of oil that are recoverable from ANWR's Coastal Plain. Peak production rates for this scenario are estimated between 400 million and 600 million barrels per year.

Scenario 3: Least Likely, Least Recoverable, Greatest Amount.

There is a 5% probability of finding 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil from ANWR's Coastal Plain. Peak production rates for this scenario are estimated between 600 and 800 million barrels per year.


No matter how much oil is under ANWR, it will take time to develop the area and extract it. For all scenarios, and at the highest extraction rate, significant amounts of oil will not be produced until about 10 years after development begins, with the greatest yield after 15-20 years. Maximum yield will be recoverable for less than five years, before it begins declining rapidly. Thus, any amount of oil recovered from ANWR will not affect immediate energy needs and will contribute most to our energy needs for a period of only a few years. As discussed below, even at its greatest, this contribution is insignificant compared with U.S. energy consumption.


Not all of the oil believed to underlie ANWR is technically or economically recoverable. The FWS reports that at prices lower than $16 per barrel, there is no economically recoverable oil in 1002 Area of ANWR. The amounts and rates of oil extraction set out in the above scenarios assume an oil price of $24 per barrel to make extraction economically feasible. It is clear that the most recoverable oil (at 95%) yields the least economic return in terms of oil production.

Much of the oil under ANWR and 1002 Area occurs as small, widely dispersed deposits. The USGS, with concurrence from oil companies, states that accumulations of less than 100 million barrels of oil are uneconomic for mining. Other economic factors that influence the cost of oil extraction are the current state of oil-extraction technology and the field's proximity to infrastructure.

The region known as 1002 Area is 100 mi (161 km) wide and located more than 30 mi (48 km) from the tail end of the nearest pipeline and more than 50 mi (80 km) from the nearest gravel road and oil support facility. To be fully developed, 1002 Area would require the construction of all the above, plus production sites, power plants, processing facilities, loading docks, living quarters, airstrips, gravel pits, utility lines, and landfills. Thus, its isolation adds significantly to the costs of developing its oil. The USGS report shows that far less oil can be economically recovered than actually occurs, or even than is technically recoverable. (Technically recoverable oil is defined as the in-place oil that is available for extraction based on geology and the state of current oil-extraction technology, regardless of cost.) Further, when oil prices decline, some oil companies may simply abandon their oil fields, leaving the infrastructure and waste lagoons intact.

ANWR and Energy Independence

The crux of the argument in favor of oil drilling in ANWR and 1002 Area is that it will significantly reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil; that it will make the United States more "energy independent." That argument is patently untrue.

As of 2000, the United States consumes about 19.6 million barrels of oil each day, or 7.154 billion barrels per year. If development of ANWR's oil fields began tomorrow and oil began to flow by 2010, the national rate of oil consumption would by then be more than 8 billion barrels per year. By the time of ANWR's maximum output, in 2020, U.S. oil consumption is projected to be about 9.5 billion barrels per year. Yet at its maximum output, ANWR would yield merely 800 million or so barrels of oil per year. And this high yield would last for only about five years, before declining drastically.

In short, even if ANWR could produce the maximum amount of oil (16 billion barrels, at a 5% chance of recovery), it would at best contribute less than 10% of U.S. oil needs. If the mean amount of oil was recoverable (10.3 million barrels, at 50% chance of recovery), at best about 5% of U.S. oil needs would be met. For the most recoverable oil (5.7 billion barrels, at 95% chance of recovery), only about 2% of our oil needs would be met by ANWR.

Energy Independence and Fuel Efficiency

Those who are concerned with U.S. dependence on foreign oil—which should be everyone—obviously cannot find relief in ANWR's oil. However, raising fuel-efficiency standards in American cars and trucks—or even using better tires—will significantly reduce our oil consumption and thus our need for foreign oil. Raising the fuel-efficiency of cars, SUVs, and trucks to 39 mi (63 km) per gallon (mpg) would save vastly more oil than occurs in all of ANWR. At 39 mpg, we would save a whopping 51 billion barrels by 2050. Just using more efficient tires would save more oil than ANWR can produce. On an annual basis, by 2020 (the time of ANWR's maximum output), if vehicles are getting 39 mi (63 km) to the gallon, we would be saving more than 1.2 billion gallons of oil per year—far more than ANWR yields.

What We Would Lose

ANWR is one of our last, great undisturbed wildernesses and the last U.S.-owned remaining intact arctic-subarctic ecosystem. It is recognized as a key component in an international arctic-subarctic refuge network (including neighboring preserves in Canada, where resource exploitation is forbidden). The FWS studies have shown that oil extraction in ANWR, and particularly in 1002 Area, will have severely negative effects on wildlife.


ANWR is home to the Porcupine herd of caribou, which migrates through the refuge and into and out of adjacent preserves in Canada. However, the largest concentration of caribou calving locations lies within 1002 Area. The FWS has shown that oil extraction in this area would reduce suitable calving locations, reduce available forage for caribou, restrict their access to insect-relief habitat on the coast, expose the herd to higher predation, and alter ancient migratory pathways, with unknown consequences for the herd. The FWS concludes that there is no doubt that oil drilling will damage, perhaps irremediably, the Porcupine herd of caribou. A 1987 FWS report also indicates a similar "major" effect (defined as "widespread, long-term change in habitat availability or quality" that would negatively affect wildlife) for ANWR's muskoxen.

Polar Bears.

The FWS reports that ANWR and 1002 Area are "the most important land denning habitat for the Beaufort Sea polar bear population." Denning bears are female bears with cubs. Without these denning areas, this population of polar bears would decline, due to increased cub mortality. Development might also result in more deadly bear-human confrontations.


More than 135 species of birds are known to nest in 1002 Area, including many shore-birds, waterfowl, loons, songbirds, and raptors. Oil drilling would result, at the least, in disturbance of nests, at worst, in destruction of the habitat required by breeding birds for nesting and feeding. Most affected birds include snow geese, seabirds, and shorebirds.

The Land.

ANWR is tundra. Permafrost lies beneath it. This land and its vegetation are extremely vulnerable to disturbance and mend slowly or not at all. The land is still scarred, and the vegetation still damaged, where simple seismic studies were conducted more than 15 years ago. Tire tracks leave scars and ruined vegetation that takes decades to recover, if they recover at all. Wildlife cannot survive in this harsh place while waiting for vegetation to recover. And if simple tire tracks leave permanent scars, the damage inflicted by the infrastructure built to sustain oil extraction will do irremediable damage.

Native Peoples.

The Inupiat and Gwich'in peoples of northeast Alaska depend on the caribou for survival. (Gwich'in means "people of the caribou.") Not only do these native people have a deep spiritual and cultural attachment to the caribou, but they rely on them for much of their subsistence, from meat to skins for clothes and shelter to tools and trade. The Gwich'in are most closely associated with the Porcupine caribou herd, which is most threatened by oil development. Both the Gwich'in and the Inupiat continue to lobby the U.S. government to abandon plans for oil development in ANWR, and to pressure the Canadian government to oppose it.

The Myth of Footprints

To make oil drilling in ANWR more palatable, Congress nominally reduced the size of the area open to "production and support facilities" to 2,000 acres on the Coastal Plain (1002 Area), or a 2,000-acre "footprint." "Footprint" is an oil-industry term used to describe the number of acres actually covered with a layer of gravel to support oil-field infrastructure.

However, this provision excludes "leasing and exploration," which will be permitted on the entire 1.5-million-acre Coastal Plain. Exploration means drilling. Oil companies do not drill anywhere they will be prohibited from extracting profitable oil.

Further, the 2,000-acre limit applies only to "surface" acreage. It does not cover "seismic or other exploratory" activities. Seismic research is done with convoys of bulldozers and "thumper trucks." Oil exploration entails erecting large oil rigs and airstrips for aircraft.

The limitation also does not apply to aboveground pipelines, which, because they do not touch the ground, are not considered as part of the acreage developed! FWS studies show that caribou avoid calving within 2.7 mi (4.4 km) of pipelines and roads, thus greatly expanding the "footprint" impact of development on wildlife.

The impression given by the limitation is that the 2,000 acres will be contiguous and compact. That is false. Nothing prevents smaller, intermittent developments over a vast area of the Coastal Plain. In fact, the USGS has reported that "oil under the coastal plain is not concentrated in one large reservoir, but is spread underneath [it] in numerous small deposits." Developing these widely dispersed deposits would damage an area far greater than 2,000 acres—and would affect wildlife throughout the region.


There is oil under ANWR. However, the amount of oil that can be extracted technically and profitably does not begin to approach the amount of oil the U.S. needs to reduce its dependence on imports. Improving fuel efficiency will have a far greater impact on reducing our oil consumption and dependence on foreign oil. Furthermore, it will save a priceless and irreplaceable wilderness that a secretary of the interior described this way: "[ANWR's] wildlife and natural [wilderness] values are so magnificent and so enduring that they transcend the value of any mineral that may lie beneath the surface. Such minerals are finite. Production inevitably means changes whose impacts will be measured in geologic time in order to gain marginal benefit that lasts only a few years."


Further Reading

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

"Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Potential Impacts of Proposed Oil and Gas Development on the Arctic Refuge's Coastal Plain: Historical Overview and Issues of Concern." U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Report [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

"Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998." USGS Report [cited July 12, 2002]. </>.

Baden, John A. "Drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?" Bozeman Daily Chronicle (31 October 2001).

Chance, Norman. "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: A Special Report." Arctic Circle. University of Connecticut [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

Corn, M. Lynne, Lawrence C. Kumins, and Pamela Baldwin. "The National Arctic Wildlife Refuge." The CRS Issue Brief for Congress. National Council for Science and the Environment [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

Doyle, Jack. Crude Awakening: The Oil Mess in America: Wasting Energy, Jobs, and the Environment. Friends of the Earth, 1994.

Lentfer, Hank, ed. Arctic Refuge: A Circle of Testimony (Literature for a Land Ethic). Milkweed Editions, 2001.

Mitchell, John G. "Oil Field or Sanctuary?"National Geographic Society [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

NWR News [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

The Oil and Gas Resource Potential of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 1002 Area,Alaska. Open File Report 98-34. Staff of the U.S. Geological Survey. Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey, 1999.

Petroleum Supply, Consumption, and Imports, 1970-2020 (million barrels per day). National Association of State Energy Officials [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

Potential Oil Production from the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Updated Assessment. Report # SR/O&G/ 2000-02, U.S. Department of Energy [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

"Senator Launches Battle over Drilling in Arctic Refuge." Inside Politics. February 21, 2001 [cited July 12, 2002]. <>.

Strohmeyer, John. Extreme Conditions: Big Oil and the Transformation of Alaska. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993.

Trustees for Alaska [cited July 12, 2002].<>.

Union of Concerned Scientists [cited July 12,2002]. <>.

Ward, Kennan. The Last Wilderness: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlight Press, 2001.



The animals of a particular habitat, region, or geological period.


The plants of a particular habitat, region, or geological period.


Relating to or denoting geological surveying methods involving vibrations produced artificially, such as by explosions.


Prudhoe Bay, on the North Slope west of ANWR, has been in oil development since the early 1980s. Since few people ever go there and see for themselves, not many people know what the impact of oil exploitation has been. Below are a few facts that should be considered before developing ANWR for oil extraction.

1. More "Footprint" Myths.

More than 1,000 square miles of tundra are covered with gravel (an area greater than Rhode Island); 23 additional oil fields cover another 2,000 acres; the Trans-Alaska pipeline and haul road eat up another 10,000 acres; there are more than 1,123 mi (1,807 km) of subsidiary roads and pipelines connected to oil wells, with an additional 500 mi (804 km) of roads along these pipelines; there are two 6,500-ft (1981-m) airstrips.

2. Gravel.

More than 10,000 acres of wetlands have been filled and covered by gravel for roads, airstrips, drill pads, and other facilities. All told, more than 22,000 acres of the North Slope is covered in gravel; there are 350 mi (563 km) of gravel roads; one mile of road requires 50,000 cubic yards of gravel. (Phillips Petroleum used more than 1 million cubic yards of gravel to fill in a 100-acre wetland for just one well.) Gravel is mined from open pits along floodplains, river deltas, and riverbanks; gravel mines covered the entire flood-plain of the Put River. The FWS estimated that over 60-million cubic yards of gravel have been mined, enough to cover Rhode Island with a 1-in (2.5-cm) layer of gravel.

3. Water Use.

The Arctic is arid, getting a mere 3-12 in (8-30 cm) of precipitation per year. Oil exploitation is water-intensive: each year 27 billion gallons of water are used for oil extraction; a single well requires 1.5 million gallons for drilling and another 360,000 gallons for "camp" use. Winter roads are "paved" with 6-in (15-cm) thick ice: one mile of road requires 1-1.5 million gallons of water for "paving," ice helipads need 2-3.6 million gallons; one airstrip gets 8 million gallons of water for ice-paving.

4. Water Pollution.

Between 1991 and 1997, 25 billion gallons of toxic pollutants were discharged into surface waters of the North Slope. Saline water (estimated at 16.4 million gallons) from the Prudhoe Bay is drawn into wells, contaminating freshwater resources.

5. Oil Spills.

Oil and other contaminant spills are a chronic problem: there are about 400 spills a year of various toxic substances onto the surface; between 1984 and 1993, there were 1,955 crude oil spills (376,321 gallons), 2,390 diesel spills (464,856 gallons), 977 gasoline spills (13,382 gallons), and 1,360 hydraulic fluid spills (77,301 gallons). From 1996 to 2000, more than 1.3 million gallons of oil (crude, diesel) were spilled. In 2000 alone, 18,000 gallons of drilling mud spilled at a BP facility, 9,000 gallons of crude gushed from a ruptured pipeline, destroying a wetland, 92,000 gallons of a salt water/crude oil mixture covered the tundra near a Phillips Petroleum site.

As of 1990, more than 4 million gallons of crude, gasoline, diesel, hydraulic fluid, acids, corrosives, heavy metals, lead, and other toxic chemicals had been spilled on the North Slope. Oil companies admit that they are unable to control or to clean up spills, citing the inclement Arctic weather. Their "spill drills," or clean-up tests, fail repeatedly.

6. Drilling Wastes.

Before 1988, about 6 billion gallons of drilling wastes were dumped into 450 unlined reserve pits. After mixing with snow and freezing, during spring melt, the wastewater flows over the tundra as toxic runoff and accumulates in wetlands and ponds. Lawsuits have forced oil companies to abandon surface pits. Today, the waste is injected under the permafrost. To date, less than half the surface reservoirs have been cleaned up. In March 2001, more than 5,000 gallons of drilling waste spilled onto the tundra from a waste injection facility.


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Should energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be developed

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Should energy resources in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge be developed