Thursday, November 10, 2005

1002 Details

You may be familiar with the controversy about plans to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). It was brought to mind today by this post on Boing Bong, which links to the Sierra Club's ANWR maps utilizing Google Earth.

Required reading for a useful consideration of the ANWR question is Jonah Goldberg's 2001 cover article for National Review. It includes a lot of useful perspective that especially contrasts with the message presented in the Boing Boing post, which starts with this hyperbolic—and misleading—declaration:
It's final innings for the Arctic Wildlife Refuge in Alaska as Congress gets ready to fill it with oil wells.
Fill ANWR with wells? Really? Goldberg points out that
ANWR is 19.6 million acres, about the size of South Carolina....On the very northern cusp of ANWR is what is commonly called the coastal plain, a tract of flat tundra largely indistinguishable from other spots along the coast and throughout the region. This comprises about 8 percent of the refuge-but an even smaller fraction of its pretty scenery. Some of this area is already off-limits to oil exploration, permanently. Nonetheless, the U.S. Geological Survey — seconded by industry experts-believes there could be untold billions of barrels of oil in the swath still legally available.
This 8 percent is known as the "1002 Area." Are even the 1.6 million aces of that going to be filled with oil wells? Goldberg again:
The oil industry says it would need to use only 2,000 acres-an area no bigger than Dulles Airport, outside D.C.-to get that oil. This footprint would be 50 times smaller than the Montana ranch owned by Ted Turner, who helps bankroll efforts to keep ANWR off-limits.
So rather than filling ANWR with oil wells, the oil-drilling activity would actually take place in one percent of it. Well, what impact would it have there? Goldberg goes on to note elsewhere that
The oil industry has made huge strides in oil exploration in the last few decades. The oil under the coastal plain could literally be extracted during the dead of winter — when it's night for 58 straight days and no caribou would be dumb enough to come within 500 miles of the Arctic Ocean — and all that would be left come spring would be a couple of Portosan-sized boxes.
[Portosan link mine. Jonah Goldberg is not, to my knowledge, endorsing the Portosan company. Nor, for that matter, am I, really. I'm just trying to clear it up for anyone who, like I, didn't recognize the word. But we're getting off-topic here.]

He also explains in those articles that drilling in the specified area won't be despoiling ANWR's natural beauty because while ANWR is replete with beauty, the coastal plain slated for drilling is really not. He went there to confirm, and he describes it in some detail. He also clarifies that while many allege the plans threaten the caribou in that area, the threat is mitigated not only by the surprisingly low-impact procedures alluded to above but also by the experience at Alaska's Prudhoe Bay,
specifically, the areas around the oil installations and pipelines, where the Central Arctic caribou herd has thrived in the shadow of extensive oil extraction. Since drilling started here, the herd has increased fivefold.
Seriously, read the whole article. And other writings of his on this topic can be found here, here, and here.

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