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ANWR Drilling

Source:  Excerpt from www.ucusa.org.    Readers may be surprised at the energy savings from conservation -- fuel efficient cars, lower thermostat settings.  Don't get your facts from partisan politicians or news bytes.  Go there for a science-based discussion (in layman's terms) on natural resources in our global economy.

The Current Energy Crisis

Americans consume 25 percent of the world's petroleum but possess only two percent of the world's supply. In 2000, the United States imported 54 percent of its oil products, sending nearly $200,000 overseas each minute. Depending so heavily on energy imports leaves Americans vulnerable to oil's price volatility. After the energy crisis of the 1970s, most areas of the economy reduced their reliance on oil substantially. Today, only two to three percent of US electricity is generated from oil. Thus oil from ANWR would have virtually no impact on US electricity-generation issues, including California's electricity crisis.

Estimates about ANWR's oil potential vary widely, although they almost all use the same study from the US Geological Survey. Using data compiled in 1998, the USGS study estimated that only 3.2 billion to 6.3 billion barrels would be "economically recoverable" from the refuge over the 50-year life of the oil field (USGS Fact Sheet 1998). This 3.2 to 6.3 billion barrels represents a mere six- to eight-month national supply. Or put another way, 3.2 billion barrels is only enough oil to fuel the US economy for seven months (Energy Information Administration, 2000). [Note: Market prices, of course, determine the amount of economically recoverable oil, which is defined in the USGS report as "That part of the technically recoverable resource for which the costs of discovery, development, and production, including a return to capital, can be recovered at a given well-head price" (USGS 1999).]

On the other hand, proponents of drilling claim that the ANWR recoverable amount is in the 10 to 16 billion barrels range. The USGS, however, calculated only a five percent chance that there are actually 16 billion barrels in the coastal plain and surrounding area; and only a portion of that oil -- however much it actually is -- could be recovered economically (USGS 1999). Also to be considered is the reality that even if ANWR were opened to drilling immediately, the oil would not reach refineries for another 10 years, and it would take approximately 15 more years before the region reached maximum production levels (EIA 2000).

Even then, over its 50-year lifespan, ANWR would contribute less than one percent of the oil this country will consume. Furthermore, many drilling proponents try to downplay the impacts by stating that only 2,000 acres will be affected -- yet this acreage is spread over 35 discrete sites on the coastal plain, requiring roadbuilding and pipeline construction between the sites and between ANWR and Prudhoe Bay facilities (USGS 1999; USFWS 2001).

Feasible, Affordable Alternatives to ANWR Drilling

Not only would drilling in ANWR produce a small return, but there are in fact viable alternatives to this country's energy needs. In its call for a comprehensive national energy discussion, a Boston Globe editorial of February 21, 2001 framed the issue nicely: "If the goal [of a national energy policy] is truly to reduce US dependence on foreign oil and not simply squeeze every drop of profit from the nation's resources, then a debate on conservation, research into alternative fuels, and clean energy technologies is crucial." We describe below some feasible options.

Transportation Solutions

Fuel-Efficient SUVs and Alternative Fuels. Transportation is the largest consumer of oil in the country (67%), and thus is highly vulnerable to volatile oil prices. With the fuel economy of new passenger vehicles at a 20-year low, American drivers feel the pinch when gas prices soar. Booming sales of SUVs and light trucks (including minivans) are responsible for this plummeting fuel efficiency.

If we opened the Arctic Refuge today, oil would not begin flowing until 2010. But if we start to increase SUV and light truck fuel economy today, by 2015 we could save as much oil as is economically recoverable from ANWR over 50 years. At the same time, drivers of SUVs and other light trucks would save $25 billion a year at the pump. To give automakers the incentive to make these technologies available to consumers, policymakers must close the fuel-economy loophole that allows SUVs and light trucks to burn 33 percent more gasoline per mile than passenger cars. Affordable technologies are currently available to boost SUV and light truck fuel economy without sacrificing power.

Other, more advanced technologies -- some already in production and others available in the near future -- can make even greater impacts on US oil dependence. Hybrid engines, for example, by combining an electric motor and gasoline engine, can boost the fuel efficiency of any vehicle; and fuel cells, which could be in showrooms this decade, provide a zero-emission, gasoline-free method to power all cars and trucks.

Energy Solutions

Efficiency and Renewable Energy. A better answer to power outages and price spikes than drilling in the Arctic Refuge is to simultaneously decrease demand through efficiency and to increase electricity production from renewable sources. Because renewable power does not rely on fossil fuels, it is not subject to the price volatility that plagues power plants, most of which run on coal and natural gas.

By enhancing energy efficiency in buildings and industry and acquiring more energy from renewable sources, the United States could save about 580 million barrels of oil annually by 2010. At this rate, in just 5.5 years we could save as much oil as is economically recoverable from ANWR. In addition, leaving this oil in the ground will keep nearly 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide from reaching the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

Summary of Main Points

* Those who call for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are looking for quick fixes rather than sustainable solutions.

* The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) has unique biological and aesthetic value, found nowhere else in the United States.

* Arctic tundra is a particularly sensitive ecosystem, due to its vulnerable permafrost layer, short growing season, and dependence on moisture.

* The "1002 area" of ANWR is the only protected part of Alaska's Arctic coastal plain; the other 95% of Alaska's Arctic coastal plain is already open for oil and gas drilling.

* The "1002 area" is the calving ground of the nearly 130,000-strong Porcupine River caribou herd. The caribou are dependent on this protected area and are especially sensitive to disturbance in the calving season.

* The amount of additional oil that might be found in ANWR is very small relative to the current rate of energy use in the United States.

* The real solution to our energy crisis is not drilling and deregulation, but conservation and renewables. Through fuel-efficient automobiles, energy efficiency, and increased renewable energy, we can lower the demand for oil.

* Any oil extracted from ANWR will do virtually nothing to solve the California or other potential electricity energy crises, since only two to three percent of this country's electricity is generated by burning oil.

* If we start to increase SUV and light truck fuel economy today, by 2015 we could save as much oil as is economically recoverable from ANWR over 50 years.

* By enhancing energy efficiency in buildings and industry and acquiring more energy from renewable sources, by 2015 we could save as much oil as is economically recoverable from ANWR over 50 years.



Boston Globe. February 26, 2001. Joseph Lieberman & Edward Markey. "Alaska Refuge Oil Isn't the Answer" (p. 15).

Brooks, Steven B., Timothy L. Crawford and Walter C. Oechel. 1997. Measurement of carbon dioxide emissions plumes from Prudhoe Bay, Alaska oil fields. J. Atmospheric Chemistry 27(2):197-208.

Energy Information Administration. 2000. "Potential Oil Production from the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." SR/O&G/2000-02. Available on the EIA website.

Energy Information Administration. December 2000. Annual Energy Outlook 2001.

Griffith, B., D.C. Douglas, D.E. Russel, R.G. White, T.R. McCabe, and K.R. Whitten. In press. "Effects of recent climate warming on caribou habitat and calf survival." In No Place to Go? The Impact of Climate Change on Wildlife, edited by R. Green, M. Harley, M. Spalding, and C. Zockler.

Griffith, B., D.C. Douglas, D.E. Russel, R.G. White, T.R. McCabe, and K.R. Whitten. Submitted. "Climate, Habitat Selection, and Performance of a Migratory Arctic Caribou Herd." Science.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. 2001. Summary for Policymakers, Working Group II, Third Assessment Report. Available in pdf format on the IPCC website.

National Resources Defense Council. 2001. "A Responsible Energy Policy for the 21st Century." Available in pdf format on the NRDC website.

US Geological Survey. 1999. The Oil and Gas Resource Potential of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge 1002 Area, Alaska. USGS Open File Report 98-34.

US Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. "Potential Impacts of Proposed Oil and Gas Development on the Arctic Refuge's Coastal Plain: Historical Overview and Issues of Concern."

Weller, G., P. Anderson, and B. Wang. 1999. Preparing for a Changing Climate: The Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change: Report of the Alaska Regional Assessment Group. US Global Change Research Program. Center for Global Change and Arctic System Research, University of Alaska, Fairbanks. Available on the Bering Sea Impact Study website.