ANWR Drilling Arguments: Polar Bears and Oil Spills
Ken Graham/Getty Images
Proponents of ANWR oil drilling point to the fact that wildlife at nearby Prudhoe Bay hasn't been affected significantly since drilling operations started in the 1970s. On the flip side, the National Academy of Sciences published a March 2003 report on the environmental impact of potential ANWR drilling, suggesting that drilling operations in Area 1002 would change migration patterns of bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea (Inupiat Eskimos hunt the bowhead whales). Other potential ramifications include modifying the distribution and reproduction of caribou herds on which the Gwich'in Indians depend, as well as
altering area populations of predators and migratory birds.
Many environmentalists argue that ANWR should be left in its pristine condition. Drilling advocates fire back that native tribes already live there, so the area isn't pristine.
Endangered Polar Bears
In 2006, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service proposed that polar bears be included on the Endangered Species list. Because polar bears den within Area 1002, this action would affect oil development within ANWR. However, in May 2008, the polar bear was declared a threatened species by U.S. Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne, but special rules were put in place that wouldn't hamper oil exploration on Alaska's north coast.
Another big argument against drilling is the possibility of a large oil spill. No major spill has occurred as a result of Prudhoe Bay operations in decades, but in March 2006, a corroded pipeline dumped 200,000 gallons (757,082 liters) of crude oil onto the tundra at Prudhoe Bay. BP Oil pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor over the spill and was fined $20 million [source: Rosen]. In addition, in April 2007, a tanker truck leaked 7,000 gallons (26,498 liters) of diesel fuel onto a frozen pond and the surrounding tundra in Prudhoe Bay [source: Petroleum News]. Oil drilling and extraction aren't clean activities. The worst fear is that an accident on the order of the Exxon Valdez oil spill could permanently devastate the ANWR environment
The controversy over oil drilling in ANWR continues with no resolution in sight. So, what are public opinions on drilling? It depends on whom you ask:
- Many Alaskans favor ANWR oil drilling as it would strengthen the Alaskan economy and provide jobs.
- The Inupiat Eskimos are open to drilling, so long as it can be done in an environmentally safe manner and they have say into the process and revenues.
- The Gwich'in Indians are opposed to drilling in ANWR.
- During July 2008's high gas prices, the Pew Center found that the U.S. public increasingly favored opening ANWR to drilling -- 53 percent favored it, 43 percent opposed it and 7 percent were undecided [source: Pew Center].
No doubt that as America's oil dependence continues, so will the controversy over whether to drill in ANWR. Ultimately, the decision rests with the U.S. Congress and the political process.Keep reading for more links on oil, polar bears and Sarah Palin.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- How Oil Drilling Works
- How Sarah Palin Works
- What would happen to the environment if U.S. federal lands were open to oil drilling?
- Could the Northwest Passage open for business?
- How Offshore Drilling Works
- How Gas Prices Work
- How Oil Refining Works
- 5 Most Coveted Offshore Petroleum Reserves
- Have we reached peak oil?
- Can I really burn used vegetable oil in my car?
- How Polar Bears Work
- Why was Alaskan fishing named the most dangerous job in the world?
More Great Links
- Union of Concerned Scientists: ANWR Information Update
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's ANWR Overview and Issues of Concern
- Arctic Power
- The Environmental Literacy Council: Energy Production and ANWR
- Alaska Wilderness League. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- API. "New Technology Minimizes Impact of Arctic Operations." Jan. 3, 2008. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Arctic power. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Athans, M. "A Fierce Fight for Alaska's Riches." Baltimore Sun. May 6, 2001. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Athans, M. "Judging the Impact of Oil Rigs' Footprints." Baltimore Sun. May 8, 2001. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Athans, M. "Two sides of the Oil Drilling Debate." Baltimore Sun. May 7, 2001. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Baldwin, P. "Legal Issues Related to Proposed Drilling for Oil and Gas in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)." Congressional Research Service Report for Congress RL31115. May 4, 2005. (Nov. 14, 2008)
- Bird, K.J. and Houseknecht, D.W. "Sizing Up Oil on Alaska's North Slope." Geotimes. November 2006. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Corbisier, R.W. "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,
Correlative Rights, And Sourdough: Not Just For Bread Anymore." Alaska
Law Review 19: 393 - 431, 2002. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Corn, M.L. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR): New Directions in the 110th Congress." Congressional Research Service Report for Congress RL33872. Feb 8, 2007. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Corn. M.L. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Background and Issues." Congressional Research Service Report for Congress RL31278. May 15, 2003. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- The Environmental Literacy Council. "Energy Production & ANWR." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- ERIC Lesson Plan. "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Many Alternatives and One Choice to Make." (Nov. 10, 2008) http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICDocs/data/ericdocs2sql/content_storage_01
- Gwich'in Steering Committee. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Institute for Energy Research. "ANWR's 1002 Area." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Kaktovik Inupiat Corporation. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Lavelle, M. "Arctic Drilling Wouldn't Cool High Prices." U.S. News & World Report. May 23, 2008. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- McAllister, B. "Oil and Gas: Alaska's Industry." The Juneau Empire. Sept. 22, 2002. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Mitchell, J.G. "Oil Field or Sanctuary?" National Geographic 200 (2): 46-55, Aug., 2001.
- Muhawi, D. "Oil Drilling in Alaska." EcoWorld. Dec. 18, 2004. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- National Academies Press. "Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- National Geographic Explorer. "Alaska's Last Oil." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- National Resources Defense Council. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Why Trash an American Treasure for a Tiny Percentage of Our Oil Needs?" (Nov. 10, 2008)
- National Resources Defense Council. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Protecting Life on the Coastal Plain." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- National Resources Defense Council. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Oil Development Damages Air, Water, and Wildlife." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Petroleum News. "Truck spills diesel at Prudhoe Bay." Vol. 12, No. 15. April 15, 2007. (Nov. 14, 2008)
- Petroleum: Possibilities in the Pipeline, Environmental Health Perspectives:110, January 2001. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Pew Center Publications. "Gas Prices Pump Up Support for Drilling." July 1, 2008. (Nov. 14, 2008)
- Pratt, S. "A Fresh Angle on Oil Drilling." Geotimes. March 2004. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Rosen, Yereth. "BP set to plead in Prudhoe Bay pipeline case." Reuters. Nov. 29, 2007. (Nov. 14, 2008)
- U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE), Energy Information
Administration. "Analysis of Crude Oil Production in the Arctic
National Wildlife Refuge." May 2008. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." (Nov. 10. 2008)
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas development on the Arctic Refuge's coastal plain: Historical overview and issues of concern." 2001. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). "Undiscovered oil resources in the Federal portion of the 1002 area of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge: an economic update." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, 1002 Area, Petroleum Assessment, 1998, Including Economic Analysis." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Energy Resources Program. "Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) 1002 Area." (Nov. 10, 2008)
- Wallace S. "ANWR: The Great Divide." Smithsonian Magazine. October 2005. (Nov. 10, 2008)
- The Wilderness Society. "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Myths vs. Facts." (Nov. 10, 2008)