Warner Pacific College
November 29, 2010
U.S. government regulation oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has been controversial for decades. Petroleum industry groups, petroleum companies, and some politicians, say that the potential oil and gas deposits there are greater than any found in the United States in the last 25 years. They argue we should drill for these resources in order to provide jobs, support U.S. demand for energy, reduce the cost of fuel, and to reduce our dependence on foreign oil (Arctic Power website, anwr.org)
Environmentalists, scientific organizations, researchers, and local Alaskan Natives counter, that at best, the proposed drilling site would produce about 600 days worth of oil, at great cost to the largest, and most pristine, wildlife reserve in the United States (US Fish and Wildlife website, 2001).
A variety of government agencies, and other groups, perform resource assessments in order to advise courses of action regarding natural resources and to inform future decisions. These assessments vary greatly in content, scope and conclusions. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) resource assessments are narrow in scope. They address the amount, location, and accessibility of resources such as oil, gas and minerals for mining, drilling or other methods of removal. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service assessments consider the same, as well as impacts to the land, wildlife, and habitat. Other assessments, such as those of the National Academies of Science and their partners, are often broader in scope.
The USGS website page titled, “Natural resource assessment: Estimation of the actual or potential value of natural materials and processes.”, (U.S.Geological website, 2010) provides a listing of reports and fact sheets on various geological locations in the United States and their associated resource potential. The USGS 2010 Updated Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA), assesses the “potential reserves of natural gas and oil within the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska and adjacent State waters”. (D. Houseknecht et al. pp. 1).
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2001 assessment entitled, “Potential Impacts of Proposed Oil and Gas Development on the Arctic Refuge's Coastal Plain: Historical Overview and Issues of Concern”, addresses a much broader range of considerations than does the USGS assessment. The Fish and Wildlife assessment speaks to: “The History of the Arctic Refuge as it relates to Oil in Alaska”, “How much Oil is in the Arctic
Refuge? ”, “The Unique Conservation Values of the Arctic Refuge”, and “Potential Impacts of Oil and Gas Development on Refuge Resources.”
As the nation struggles over whether or not to allow petroleum companies to explore and drill in this region, missing from the picture is an assessment of the impact to the local native people. A video available on the Arctic Power website (anwr.og, director and producer not cited, no date), implies that the people would be better off, and the local economy and access to education would be improved, if oil exploration and drilling were allowed to take place in the ANWR.
The Committee on Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska’s North Slope assessment (The Committee) is much more comprehensive when compared to either the USGS or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife assessments. The Committee is comprised of members from the Board on Environmental Research Toxicology, The Polar Research Board, The Division on Earth and Life Studies, and the National Research Council of the National Academies. The Committee’s assessment addresses on all of the topics surveyed by both the USGS and Fish and Wildlife. It also includes comprehensive interviews with, and assesses impacts to, the peoples of the North Slope.
The Committee reports that oil development has improved human services generally, but there greater incidents of alcoholism and diabetes. It reports loss of traditional culture and negative impacts to Alaska Native subsistence harvesting. In interviews with Native Alaskans, the Inupiat said they worry about a major oil spill, and our ability to contain and clean up such as spill, while the Gwich'in Indians, who rely on caribou for food and clothing, are concerned about the impact to the herd, particularly when the caribou are calving. This 288 page assessment also provides detailed recommendations on planning, further recommended research, the potential risk of an oil spill and the challenges of mediating such a spill.
In conclusion, there are many ways to assess natural resources. Assessments may be narrow in scope, with a very specific purpose and considering impacts to only one or a few elements, or they may be broad, such as that of the The Committee on Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska’s North Slope. It may be that these more critical comprehensive assessments are doable because the work is performed by several organizations with a variety of mandates, and because there is no single leader.
We need to consider all aspects and impacts prior to making decisions regarding our precious non-renewable natural resources, whether these resources are animal, vegetable, mineral or people. This underlines the importance of assessments like that of The Committee on Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska’s North Slope.
Arctic Power website. (no date). Anwr.org. retrieved at http://www.anwr.org/topten.htm on November 27, 2010
Committee on Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope (2003). Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activies on Alaska’s North Slope. 9 pp. National Academies Press. Washington D.C. Retrieved athttp://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=10639&page=133 on November 27, 2010
D.W. Houseknecht et al. (2010). Updated Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPRA). 4 pp. Retrived at pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2010/3102/pdf/FS10-3102.pdf on November 27, 2010
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas development on the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain: Historical overview and issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge,Fairbanks, Alaska. 17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.htm
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey (2010). U.S. Geological Survey Website. (2010). Retrieved at www.usgs.gov/science.php?type=theme&term=773 on November 27, 2010