Drilling for oil in Alaska

Ok, the republicans say we should go tap the oil reserves in Alaska. The democrats say that drilling will destroy the wildlife and ruin all of the beauty, kill all the animals, etc.

The debate seems to be “we need the oil regardless of the damage to the pretty nature reserves” vs “this is one of the last places not destroyed by man, it is not worth being destroyed for x amount of oil.”

My question is this: will drilling up there really destroy everything? That seems to be taken as a given, but I don’t know why. We can’t drill a few holes in the ground without destroying everything? We’re not talking about smoke stacks here. Is the “destruction” just democrat environazi propoganda which has strangely been accepted by the republicans, or is it really a “given” that drilling for oil up there will destroy everything and ruin the wildlife reserves? Is there no way to drill for oil without ruining everything? The alaska pipeline hasn’t destroyed the environment - were the same people against that?

While your post is loaded with charged words (environazi, etc.) let me say that it behooves us in the U.S. to develop those reserves that may be available in the ANWR, at an enviromental risk far below what the doom-seekers predict (I believe ANWR can be exploited without any baby caribou having identity crises).

I suppose it’s something of a Pavolvian response for me to reply to this kind of post, but hey, I’m both an Alaskan and a previous oil-field worker.

The truth of the matter is this: There WILL be indelible marks left by the drilling. It’s a given- the wellheads and pipelines themselves cannot (and should not) be hidden or buried.

It’s also a given that spills WILL happen. As I recall, hundreds of spills happen every year.

Whoa, hold it, wait up, come back here.

What’s a “spill”? With the current regulations already in place a spill means… well, anything being spilled. In any amount.

Some shop-jockey knocks over a half-full bottle of commercial, off-the-shelf hydraulic oil while he’s out servicing the D-9 Cat? That’s a “spill”.
It has to be reported, documented, contained, recorded, filed and cleaned up.

It winds up in the database (if you don’t look too deeply at the actual information involved in each record) as a “spill”. At which point somebody simply adds up all the “spills” reported each year, and slaps that number over a photo of the Exxon Valdez in some pamphlet, so the reader thinks that X number of Valdez-class spills happen every year, obviously contaminating hundreds of acres… yadda, yadda.

Sorry, that ain’t so.

I’ve worked around pipelines, refineries, tankers, loading ports and tank farms. In all cases, any minor leakage (such as a dripping pipeline sample-port valve) is contained, then fixed within a day. You’ll see more oil stains on the ground in front of gas-pumps at the service station, than you will in the entire area of a refinery.

Personally, I wouldn’t call it “environazi” propaganda, but it is, to an extent, definitely propaganda. George Gallup once said he could use statistics to prove the existence of God. Another axiom states that there are three kinds of Lies: Lies, damned lies, and statistics.
Each side of the argument will use any set of numbers they can find, put their own spin on it, and publish it as their version of the truth.

(Though not always. Many extremists- for all manner of causes- will make up statistics out of whole cloth to further their agenda.)

Here’s what I know:
“Hurt the caribou herds?”
The herds went from around 3,000 head in the late sixties when Prudhoe Bay started drilling, to some 24,000 head now.
Sounds pretty detrimental to me.

“Take away the Natives way of life?”
This is a touchy one, and it’ll depend strongly on which individual you ask. But for the most part, drilling will bring in badly-needed jobs, help with infrastructure (piddling things like indoor plumbing, maybe the beginnings of a fire department, possibly even a school) and provide more commerce, IE faster and more frequent shipping to bring in food and supplies, diesel to run the town’s generators, etc.

“It’ll destroy the environment?”
ANWR consists of nineteen million acres. 92% of that is already off-limits to any exploration or development. Of the remaining eight percent, between 2,000 and 5,000 acres will be involved (a fraction of one percent) and of THAT, only a few acres overall will actually see exploration activity.

Alaska has something like a quarter of all US-owned landmass, amounting to hundreds of millions of acres… it’d have to be a pretty nasty spill to “destroy” it.

“It’s not worth it because it’s only six months’ worth of oil anyway?”
I suppose, without looking up the mean numbers, that’s possibly technically correct… IF only ANWR oil were considered.

The US buys roughly 52% of it’s oil from foreign sources. Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, alone has provided roughly 25% of the US domestic production. When originally drilled, everyone expected Prudhoe to have petered out by the mid-eighties at the latest. New tests seem to point to another two or three Billion barrels may still be available.

That sort of potential production “isn’t worth it”? It’s better to send billions of US dollars to unstable middle-east nations? It’s better to transport oil in huge floating tankers than it is to deliver it through pipelines?

Sod the oil for a moment, what about the estimated Trillions of cubic feet of natural gas? The same stuff that’s in short supply in the MidWest, and could easily be used to power clean-burning electrical-generation plants in California?

Great reply Doc!

“ANWR consists of nineteen million acres. 92% of that is already off-limits to any exploration or development. Of the remaining eight percent, between 2,000 and 5,000 acres will be involved (a fraction of one percent) and of THAT, only a few acres overall will actually see exploration activity.”

That’s really the info i was looking for.