Oil Drilling in Alaska’s North Slope region has attracted oil industry attention, especially after the Bush administration’s proposal to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to exploration and subsequent production of oil to help reduce foreign oil importation into the United States. Alaska BP exploration, Alberta Energy Co. Ltd., Anadarko Petroleum and Philips Petroleum are among the companies that explore natural gas on the foothills region of Alaska’s North Slope (Michael, 2007, pp. 9 – 14).
In the recent years, ANWR – Artic National Wildlife Refuge is a war field for politics and environmental concerns in the American government. This war is usually reduced to two perspectives; those who are supporting for the protection of the environment and those who are only interested in the use of the available energy resources. The people who are interested with the use of energy don’t consider where the resource will be obtained from whether; from the fragile environments or the protected regions. This then generally means that the war is between the Republicans and the Democrats in terms of politics. The Democrats on one side are against the plans of opening up of the ANWR as was pictured by the refusal of former President Clinton while the Republics spear headed by President Bush are supporting the initiative. Other players are the inhabitants of this regions (Alaska) and environmentalists (Michael, 2007, pp. 9 – 14).
Alaska is the largest state with a small population in the U.S which is also among the least developed states with many forests with the accessibility between the villages is through the use of planes. It is estimate that the exploration will be conducted in an approximate area of 8% (2000 acres) and the remaining area about 17.5 million acres will be protected. Hence, in general a small portion will be affected by the drilling process. The drilling process will increase be expected to increase the revenue of the state and the Federal Treasury through lease rentals, taxes, royalties and bonus that are associated with the development of oil business (Michael, 2007, pp. 9 – 14).
Other benefits that are expected include job creation which will lead to thousands of people being employed (more than 250,000). This will also impact in the development of the economy in each state of the union. This is due to the fact that the price of imported fuel is high which directly affects the economy. The fact that the amount of oil in Prudhoe Bay Field is declining another field that is required for the production of the fuel is needed. The introduction of the ANWR into the field of oil exploration will re-instate the oil that is produced by Alaska as a state. A failure to open the ANWR field for oil exploration will negatively jeopardize the survival of various companies; BP and Arco Alaska both of whom have invested a lot in this area.
Another issue for the support of exploration is that most Alaskans support this idea. More than 75% of the state population supports the idea of exploration and the use of ANWR for oil production. This is also witnessed from the past 25 years of elections were by the congressional delegates, Alaska state Legislatures and the Governors have usually unanimously supported the idea (John, 1992, pp. 23 – 45).
Environmental expects have concluded that oil drilling in this region will destroy the diversity. The ANWAR is termed as the biological heart of Alaska State which is a basis for wildlife. The people who are against this idea say that the process which will solve a short lived problem of oil will drastically remove some important heritage from the future generations.
Since the spillage of oil in 1989 by Exxon Valdez rejuvenated the idea of conservation of ANWR. This spillage directly affected the beaches of Alaska and as late as 2005 the effect is still seen. The spilled oil is of the form of unweathered which is usually more dangerous when compared with weathered oil which remains in a liquid form which is toxic. Another environmental issue is when the British Petroleum were forced to replace the leaking pipeline in the Prudhoe Bay in 2006 this also shows the effects that the environment will have to withstand (Richard, 2006 pp. 50 – 60).
Wildlife like the Polar bears will be affected due to the continual loss of sea ice which is their main ecosystem. The presence of human encroachment also adds to the dangers that the wildlife has to face. The polar bear are susceptible to the effects of spilled oil as that the oil covers their fur which prevents biological processes and may also affect the kidney and the lungs when the oil is ingested. Such problems are also experienced by the sea birds whose ecosystem is both at the sea and the land. The leakages that have already been witnessed in this region have not been analyzed or evaluated, hence the disaster that it has caused to the habitant of these animals; caribou, seabird and tundra haven’t been checked.
Bowhead whales which is an endangered species will also be affected by exploration due to the seismic testing that the companies use. This seismic wave usually sends the whales further offshore. Native Alaskans are the only population that is given the opportunity to hunt these species hence the process inconveniences them. In 2002 the American Indians opposed the proposition since the exploration and any development that is related to oil will negatively affect the cultural survival of various tribes in Alaska. Due to the fact that the natives are allowed to hunt the endangered species and so far the whale population is still stable which then means further encroachment by human activities will negatively influence this balance (Michael, 2007, pp. 9 – 14).
Through exploration and studying of the amount of the oil that is available within this region, various people and analyzers have asked whether it’s profitable to develop and support the exploration. The reason comes from the idea that the amount of oil that will be obtained from the region will only support 5% of oil needs in United States (James 2006, pp. 66 – 70).
Away from the environmental concerns, oil refiners and certain shareholders are opposing the move. Their fear is that by opening other oil wells the price of fuel that they will produce will be drastically lowered due to competition and availability. Also, state governments and independent refining companies fear that the employment and job creation will be moved to Alaska from other states (Subhankar 2003 pp. 56 – 70).
The issue of relationship between the ANWR oil debate and the environment usually depends on the person that is asked. Many people accept that the issue of banning oil production in Alaska results in high fuel prices, creation of large job opportunities and the revenues that are expected. This is due to the fact that the United Sates usually depends on imported oil which accounts to about 64% of the oil that is used. While on the other hand most people are disturbed and don’t agree on the extent of the exploration to the wildlife and the Indians who are in the area if a disaster occurs. But, that person who supports the oil project argues that exploration at the Northern Slope will have negligible impacts on the general environment. Hence, the position that one argues from views the effects of Alaska oil drilling differently (John, 1992, pp. 23 – 45).
The geographic location and position of the ANWR in Alaska, the oil drilling project could have various effects on the environment in general. Any kind of oil spill would be disastrous since it would be difficult to clean up due to the fact that the weather in the Northern Slope is cold. Wildlife that might be influenced by an accidental oil spill includes polar bear, caribou, and various fish species that inhabit the water near this region. Global warming and ozone depletion is encouraged during the oil spill, the exploration and during the day to day use of the oil.
John, R. (1992). The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion, New York: Cambridge University Press, pp. 23 – 45
Subhankar, B. (2003). Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land, New York: New York Publishers, pp. 56 – 70
Dwight, H. (1990). Costal Alert: Ecosystems, Energy and Offshore Oil Drilling, London: Oxford University Publishers, pp 96 – 100
James, K. (2006). Oil Drilling in Alaska and Impacts to the Ecosystem, New York: McGraw Publishers, pp. 66 – 70
Richard, L. (2007). United States Oil Exploration, Chicago: Chicago Publishers, pp. 50 – 60
Michael, P. (2007). Oil Exploration in Alaska, London: Cambridge University Publishers, pp. 9 – 14