Mike IversonMusic, clawhammer banjo, and more...

Music, clawhammer banjo, and more...

ANWR: Should we or shouldn't we...


Now I used to think that I was cool
Running around on fossil fuel
Until I saw what I was doing
Was driving down the road to ruin

- James Taylor "Traffic Jam"

I received an email today from a family member who wanted my opinion on the question of oil development in the coast region of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).

I hadn't really looked into this issue as I thought the decision to "not drill" was made long ago; it appears I was wrong. This issue is still being debated and a hugh propaganda campaign is now being waged to open up the coastline of ANWR for drilling.

It wasn't easy, but after an exhaustive internet search I finally found a relatively impartial analysis from the Arctic Institute's Center for Circumpolar Security Studies. This article boiled down the debate to one real question: "how much risk is acceptable to produce energy in the High North?"

Here are some talking points from the article:

1. "Currently, the TAPS oil pipeline is nearing the lower limit on throughput and pace of offshore development may be too slow to keep the flow of oil up."

Unless more regional oil reserves are developed, the Alaskan pipeline will not be profitable enough to justify it's own existence. Opening part of ANWR to drilling would provide a short term solution to this.

2."ANWR boasts pristine wilderness, one of the last undeveloped regions in the United States, with a large migratory caribou area."

Are we, as a people, willing to sacrifice what might be the last piece of undeveloped wilderness left the United States? I can't speak for the rest of the country, but I find this to be the most compelling reason to not drill. To quote Joni Mitchell, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone”...

3. "State interests are inexorably connected to production of oil and gas resources in Alaska, with over 85% of state budget attributed to petroleum revenues."

The land in question is held in trust by the Federal Government for all U.S. citizens, this is not just an Alaskan concern. The state of Alaska obviously wants to drill as the vast majority of their money comes from the oil industry. Because of this, I will be skeptical of any information coming from Alaskan politicians who will want to turn this into a “states rights” issue. Obviously, we should also be wary of any information coming from the fossil fuel industry who will spin the debate toward prioritizing short term profits over any long term effects oil development might have on the environment (or even the energy industry itself).

4."As Arctic development increases, and the U.S. establishes its own procedures for accessing resources, Arctic member states will look to U.S. success, or failure, for precedents. The U.S.’ pledge to promote sustainable development will have no leverage should the United States irreversibly damage the Alaskan environment."

Drilling could prove to be counterproductive to our foreign policy. The U.S. is trying to establish it’s position as a world leader in “green” technology, and is therefore actively trying to convince counties (China, Russia, etc.) to become more environmentally responsible. Does drilling ANWR make us appear to be hypocrites?

So what do I think? Both sides of this debate have merit and the final decision is one we cannot afford to jump into hastily. This isn't a one issue problem; environmental, economic, and foreign policy considerations must be carefully studied and weighed, one against the other, before moving forward with any new federal policy.

From a political standpoint, development of the ANWR oil reserves may be unavoidable, but we must make sure the process is done with sufficient regulation to avoid damaging the ANWR ecology or our global standing as a leader in environmental responsibility; we can't afford another Exxon Valdez…

Mike Iverson

Recommended reading…

My Turn: DNR's Unfortunate Mission Change

Will Drilling ANWR Ease The Oil Crisis?

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