PHS 100 Environmental Studies
Regulations and culture
In this paper I will discuss my opinions on how society can asses our natural resources and how environmental policy affects our culture. As a very conservative person I understand that it is important to be a good steward of the natural resources the United States has been blessed with. I also understand that there is a certain amount of exploitation that is needed to sustain our needs. Assessing natural resources is important because if we do not know how much there is we cannot know how much can be used. Unfortunately, assessing natural resources is easier in some cases and harder in others.
The fisheries in Alaska produce approximately half of the fish caught in US waters (NOAA, 2010). There are 842,000 nautical square miles in the fisheries in Alaska. The NOAA is quite good at ensuring that both the amount of fish harvested and the way the fish are harvested remains sustainable. If the fish population is too small or does not meet the NOAA’s requirements, the season is delayed or suspended. After all, it would not take more than a few seasons of overfishing before the fishery would not produce and would have to be shut down for an extended period of time to recover (like Oregon’s Salmon fishery). By fishing sustainably more fish will be removed through time.
Less than two months ago in the same state, another natural resource was found to have been assessed quite incorrectly. The US Geological Survey issued a report in October stating that Alaska’s oil reserves are now 896 million barrels (USGS, 2010). This is a lot of oil and will continue to be pumped out of the ground, provide jobs and energy for the United States. The problem with the updated assessment is that it is ninety percent lower than the 10.8 billion barrels that were previously estimated.
The 2002 survey that estimated 10.8 billion barrels of oil and the 2010 survey that revised that number were both derived from test drilling in the oilfields. The 2010 survey differed in that it had access to the actual production numbers for the now producing wells. It also had the results of additional test drilling that took place to expand oil production (USGS, 2010).
Both the management of the fishery and assessment of the oil fields are handled by professionals in Federal departments that should be free from political tampering (we can only hope). The fact remains that one department sustainably manages the fishery while the other one was ninety percent high in their estimate. Unfortunately this happens. It will be interesting to see how the revised oil reserve information unfolds in Alaska.
Once resources are identified and quantified they are normally exploited. This can be pumping water from deep aquifers to water crops in the Midwest, this can be cutting trees down in Oregon, and this could be pumping oil from the ground. Typically the government controls the regulations governing the exploitation of the resources. Sometimes the regulations work and sometimes they do not. In almost all cases there are two sides trying to influence the regulations. I liken this to the cartoon character with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. One side wants complete access, and the other wants no access. In my opinion, neither side can claim to be the angel as there are positives and negatives to resource use.
My example of this is in ethanol use in gasoline production. Ethanol was required to be added to gasoline in 2006 after the MTBE disaster. The mechanical problems with Ethanol are that Ethanol is a solvent, Ethanol absorbs water (which can be bad for some engines), and the supply of Ethanol for fuel is of inconsistent quality. The environmental issues with Ethanol are that Ethanol is made from Field Corn that takes water to grow, Field corn is used in animal feed but it takes land to grow; land that could be used to grow food corn and Ethanol uses approximately four gallons of fresh water to make one gallon of Ethanol. There is no doubt that food production is an important issue especially in our hemisphere where more corn is an important staple. Ethanol uses Field Corn, and then only the starch is used to make Ethanol. The rest is used for animal feed. This still takes land away from food production. By far the most important environmental issue with Ethanol is its requirement for water. One Ethanol plant can make 100 million gallons of ethanol a year. This requires 400 million gallons of water per year or as much as a town of ten thousand would use. There is no question that freshwater is going to be one of the scarcest resources in the 21st century. From Ethanol usage to sprawling suburbia and their huge lawns to watering crops to keeping the thirst of the cities quenched, water management will be a central issue.
Assessing resources can be as easy as counting fish within 842,000 nautical square miles of ocean or as difficult as guessing how much oil is miles below the ground between geological formations. The regulations can be as clear as no dumping motor oil in to the storm drain or as cloudy as water management. One of the few certainties in life will be that the time to pay the piper will come and then we will see which cartoon angel was right.
NOAA. (2010, December 8th). NOAA Fisheries Alaska home page. Retrieved December 8th, 2010, from NOAA Fisheries Alaska: http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/
USGS. (2010, October 25th). Arctic Assessment. Retrieved December 8th, 2010, from USGS.gov: http://energy.usgs.gov/alaska/