Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a protected area located in North Eastern Alaska, North of Fairbanks, which was established under the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980. It borders Beaufort Sea to the North, Prudhoe Bay to the West and Brooks Range to the south. It is roughly 20 million acres or 78000 square kilometres big. Eight percent of the roughly 20 million acres is 1002 area: an unexplored, onshore area with commercially viable oil deposits (United States Department of Energy).
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Currently, onshore drilling can only take place with congressional authorization due to a raging controversy between proponents, who claim that the oil will ease United States dependence on foreign oil, create jobs and expand of business opportunities; and opponents who argue that drilling will lead to irreversible damage to a delicate ecosystem that supports unique biodiversity.
Though economic benefits of such drilling are obvious, they do not outweigh the need to preserve the pristine nature of the area o the benefit of thousands of animal and plant species that depend on it.
To begin with, the refuge should be preserved since it supports a rich due to its undisturbed status. The Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act recognizes the need for protection of resources such as fish, birds and caribou since they rely on the refuge for spawning, nesting and calving respectively.
Lagoons, barrier islands, river deltas and coastal tundra host migratory birds such as swans and geese. During summer, caribous inhabit coastal lands to escape from numerous flies, feed on shrubs and most importantly, give birth before winter sets in. Others animals include, musk oxen, moose, grizzly bears and arctic squirrels.
Further South, wolves, lynxes, grizzly bears flourish. The act also identifies the delicate interdependence among these species as a vital element of their survival. Consequences of accidental spills would be unimaginable and disastrous to the fragile ecosystem if the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill and 2010 Deepwater Horizon disasters are anything to go by: food chains are interrupted and species take long to recover.
In addition, construction of oil platforms, pipelines and necessary infrastructure will damage the area irreversibly. Even if proponents of drilling might argue that it is possible to minimize such impact using new technologies, possibility of structures such as pipelines, roads and airports constricting land and disrupting migratory patterns for caribous cannot be ruled out.
The Trans Alaska Pipeline System continues to face allegations of blocking migratory caribou herds not to mention the disruption of dens and lairs for numerous animals that happened during its construction. Tied to this issue is the plight of native Alaskan people who depend directly on caribous for their meat and hides.
Perhaps proponents of drilling oil in the refuge on the basis of its ability to reduce United States’ reliance on foreign oil should consider assessment by the United States Department of Energy to the effect that the oil is not expected to have a large impact on world crude oil prices and US economy.
A report by US Energy Information Administration projects that if fully developed, 1002 area will have a capacity to produce 1.9 million liters of oil per day in 2020. This will account for a paltry 0.7 percent of the world production. The report adds that this will reduce US net oil import from 62 to 60 percent which is not very significant.
It is therefore necessary to put drilling oil in 1002 area on hold since negative impacts far out weigh possible economic and social benefits. Wildlife and the rich tundra vegetation are equally important to United States of America.
United States. Department of Energy. Energy Information Administration. “Petroleum Basic Statistics.” 2010. Web.
United States. Department of Energy. Energy Information Administration. “Independent Statistics and Analysis.” 2010. Web.