To Drill or Not to Drill: the Debate Over the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is located in northeastern Alaska and covers over 19 million acres of land. It is the largest nationally protected wildlife refuge in the country and it is under assault. Thanks to a proposed plan to drill for oil in the region, the area has become the center heated debates across the nation.

This is a guest post by Brady Olson who is a conservation writer for Save BioGems, a division of the National Resources Defense Council mobilizing to protect the arctic national wildlife refuge. If you would like to write an article, please read How to Become an Author

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The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is located in northeastern Alaska and covers over 19 million acres of land. It is the largest nationally protected wildlife refuge in the country and it is under assault. Thanks to a proposed plan to drill for oil in the region, the area has become the center heated debates across the nation.

Since 1977, the question of whether to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, has been a hot button for the political elite. While proponents of drilling are quick to point to our dependability on oil from overseas sources, opponents point to the detrimental effects such drilling could have on the natural wildlife in the area; part of the original reason for the establishment of the refuge.

An arctic fox in the snow.

In Support of Drilling

Though the question of drilling in the ANWR has been considered since the 70s, it wasn’t until President George W. Bush publicly supported the idea that the controversy was thrust into the public spotlight. The Department of Energy approximates that, between the years of 2018 and 2030, oil production in the ANWR would reduce money spent on foreign oil sources would drop by up to $327 billion.

Studies conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service state that there are 77 wildlife refuges, in 22 states, that currently have oil and/or gas drilling operations. There have been no significant incidents in any of these areas; a fact that the report’s authors use to support their stance on the ability to safely drill in the ANWR.

In Opposition of Drilling

Opponents of drilling in the ANWR, including President Obama, are quick to point out that there is no proof to support the projected savings associated with drilling in the region. Using the same report, from the DOE, the Obama administration has stated that, while the United States consumed close to 7.55 billion barrels of oil in 2006, usable oil reserves in the ANWR only contain approximately 7.7 billion barrels, or enough for one year’s supply.

Drilling in the area is primarily opposed because the low resultant production will have an incredibly high impact on the region’s environment. There are currently no roads in the over 99 million acres of refuge; to drill and supply America with oil, an extensive network of platforms, rigs and roads would need to be constructed.

What Is At Risk?

A single oil spill, not to mention the vast amount of construction necessary to begin and maintain a drilling operation, could be detrimental to the vast array of wildlife that inhabits the region. The ANWR is home to five separate ecological regions: coastal marine areas, coastal plain tundra, alpine tundra, forest tundra and the boreal forest. These ecological regions are home to an amazing list of wildlife:

  • Mammals: gray wolf, polar bears, brown bears, black bears, moose, caribou, muskoxen and dall sheep, among others.
  • Birds: tundra swans, snow geese, bluethroats and buff-breasted sandpipers; to name a few.
  • Fish: the arctic grayling, arctic cisco and dolly varden share the waters with seals and whales.

Destruction of habitat is virtually guaranteed to lead to the extinction of some of these animals; polar bears in particular. Not only will changes to the region affect habitat directly but indirectly as well, by destroying the habitat of prey animals needed for these predators to survive.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must be protected if we hope to save one of the last unspoiled regions in America. We must ask ourselves if the minimal amount of oil that will be supplied is worth the destruction of both habitat and wildlife. Once these amazing animals are gone, they will be gone forever. Is one year of oil worth the extinction of entire species of animal?

About Brady Olson

Brady Olson is a conservation writer for savebiogems.org, a division of the National Resources Defense Council, which has mobilized to protect the arctic national wildlife refuge from planned oil drilling. Protecting the Polar Bear Seas is critical to the survival of polar bears, which have already been severely endangered by climate change.

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