March 14, 2005
Money or Life?
Imagine yourself walking across vast plains of grasslands, with no signs of development as far as your eye can see. In every direction there lies yet more open space, with giant snow capped mountains in the distance to your left and small rolling hills to your right. The sky above is clear with not one cloud in sight. A hawk flies overhead and dives down in the brush to catch a mouse. You watch her as she dashes away to enjoy her fresh meal. Perhaps she is taking the catch back for her young. You can hear the growl of a powerful grizzly bear in the distance. The warm sun and crisp air complement the tranquility of the wilderness. It is a peaceful setting.
You are walking through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), a stretch of 19 million acres in northeast Alaska that is located north of the Arctic Circle and less than 1,300 miles south of the North Pole. The land has greater plant and animal diversity than all of Alaska’s Northern Slope. It is home to 45 species of land and marine mammals, such as caribou, polar bears, grizzly bears, musk oxen, and wolves, 36 species of fish, and 180 species of birds. The coastal plain area, composed of 1.5 million acres on the northern edge of the state, stretches 100 miles across and 30 miles wide, about the size of Delaware. The coastal plains are barren with small, unconnected ponds scattered throughout the area. South of the coastal plains are gently rolling hills that lead to foothills that lead to the Northern Brooks Range. [i] Although I have never been to this region of Alaska, I have seen many pictures and read detailed descriptions of the area.
Not only is this land stunningly beautiful, but it also happens to have the highest petroleum potential onshore in North America. Less than 100 miles west of ANWR lies Prudhoe Bay, the U.S.’s largest oil field. With such valuable land close by, it is very likely that ANWR land is also rich in oil. With such a high potential for petroleum production and America’s large debt, the valuable oil is a much desired resource. According to the Bush Administration, drilling in Alaska would bring in a significant amount of money that would greatly decrease our debt. With domestic oil production decreasing, the administration is searching for more oil-rich areas to drill.[ii]
Alas, we arrive at the controversy. Which is more important, national needs for additional domestic energy supplies or national needs and interest in preservation of wilderness? Logically, the benefits of drilling on ANWR land must outweigh the costs. President Bush argues that the income from the millions of barrels of oil produced on ANWR land will be well worth the cost to begin the project and the huge effect it will have on the wildlife. Bush has provided numbers obtained through the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) that show the ANWR land to contain anywhere from 5.7 to 16 billion barrels of crude oil with an expected value of 10.4 billion barrels. The administration claims that opening ANWR for drilling will raise an initial $2.4 billion in leasing fees, half of which they promise to share with the state of Alaska.[iii] What they fail to address is the negative effect this project will have on the wilderness. Not only is this land in Alaska some of the most beautiful in the country, but it is also home to a numerous amount of animals and plants that will be forced out of their natural homes for the mass production of oil.
One of the major calving areas for Porcupine Caribou is located in the area that the administration has proposed to drill. If the plan goes through, the caribou have no choice but to leave the area in search of a new space. This will, without a doubt, increase their vulnerability to predators and put the animals and their young in great danger. Environmentalists and preservationists are against opening ANWR to drilling because of the threats to the wildlife. [iv] Regardless of how much oil can be produced, it is not worth it to destroy the land. After all, the purpose of ANWR is to protect the land and wildlife, not devastate it. Interest groups such as the Alaska Conservation Foundation, the Alaskan Wilderness League, Earth First, and the Sierra Club are all in support of preservation of ANWR.
Alaskans are split on the issue. The majority is in support of the plan because it will boost the economy and provide jobs; however, many natives do not wish for the land to be used for mass oil production.[v]
The Bush administration is interested in 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain for oil and natural gas exploration leases, a mere 8 % of the entire 19 million acres. For such a small percentage of the land, a huge number of jobs will be created. Bush uses these statistics to persuade Americans, and more importantly the Senate, to approve of his plan. However, if ANWR is opened to drilling it will take approximately eight years before reaching its full potential of production, an estimated 800,000 to 1 million barrels per day. [vi] While the number is impressive, do not forget about the cost of the drills, jobs, and damage to the land and native animals.
With the majority of Republicans in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the ANWR drilling plan will be included in the budget for the fiscal year of 2006, beginning on October 1. Administration hopes to begin leasing tracts as soon as 2007. [vii]
Although President Bush earns his credibility through his title as America’s president, he lacks the ability to produce constant positive results with his large scale projects. He has made promises in the past that have fallen through and done America more harm than good. For example, his choice to engage in war in the Middle East was originally a plan to retaliate after the September 11 attacks. The terrorist attacks had no connection with the Iraqi government, yet Bush sent American troops into Iraq in order to disarm and overthrow Saddam Hussein. Tens of thousands of innocent people, Americans and Iraqis, died for a misconstrued reason, and America sunk deeper into dept as a result. As an American, I lost respect for President Bush. His terminal credibility was weak, therefore, I hesitate to believe his plan to drill in ANWR will be successful. He has lied in the past, and I have no doubt that he is lying about the revenue from the ANWR plan.
Think back to the vast terrain of the coastal plain. Envision the blue sky above and the yellow grass at your feet. Now picture this same land covered in drills, the sky filled with pollution and noise from the drills. There are no animals and few plants surviving. The aura has been completely transformed from the striking natural landscape to a sea of bobbing machines. Where there was once plant life, there are drills. The serenity of the land has diminished. The cost of all the machinery and labor, in addition to the loss of the natural environment, is not equal in value to the amount of oil that is produced from the land.
[ii] “Fact Sheet: ANWR debate at glance,” April 11, 2002,
[iii] “Bush urges Senate to back his energy plan,” February 23, 2002,
[iv] . Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, May 20, 2004,
[vi] . “Bush budget sees ANWR drilling leases in 2007,” February 7, 2005,
[vii] “Bush budget sees ANWR drilling leases in 2007,” February 7, 2005,