Drilling in the Arctic Refuge is Not a Solution to Our Energy Problems, It's a Distraction
Karen Wayland is the Natural Resources Defense Council's legislative director and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University. Dr. Wayland, who holds a dual Ph.D. in geology and resource development, was a legislative fellow for Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on nuclear waste, water, energy, and Native American issues before joining NRDC's staff.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the last unspoiled wild areas in the United States. Its 1.5-million-acre coastal plain is rich in biodiversity, home to nearly 200 species, including polar bears, musk oxen, caribou, and millions of migratory birds.
There is no way to drill in the refuge without permanently harming this unique ecosystem or destroying the culture of the native Gwich'in people, who have depended on caribou for thousands of years. The little oil beneath the refuge is scattered in more than 30 small deposits. To extract it, roads, pipelines, air strips, and other industrial infrastructure would be built across the entire area.
Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would do nothing to lower gas prices or lessen our nation's dependence on imported oil. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the refuge holds less economically recoverable oil than what Americans consume in a year, and it would take 8-10 years for that oil to reach the market. A recent U.S. Energy Department report found that oil from the Arctic Refuge would have little impact on the price of gasoline, lowering gas prices by less than two pennies--in 2025.
If we boosted the fuel economy performance of our cars and trucks just 1 mile per gallon annually over the next 15 years, we would save more than 10 times the oil that could be recovered from the refuge. We have the technology today to accomplish that goal.
The United States has 3% of the world's oil reserves but consumes 25% of all oil produced each year. We cannot drill out way to lower gas prices. By refocusing on efficiency and alternative fuels, we can improve our energy security and preserve the Arctic Refuge for future generations.
1. Do you think it is worth drilling for oil in ANWR? Why or why not?
2. List other strategies to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil beyond drilling in ANWR. Which strategies hold the most promise and why?
3. Consider the two contradictory statements:
- A. "Drilling in the Arctic Refuge would do nothing to lower gas prices or lessen our nation's dependence on imported oil."
- B. "The Coastal Plain in ANWR is estimated to contain, on average, more than 10 billion barrels of oil. If true, this will more than double the amount of oil Alaska is currently producing, thus decreasing our nation's dependence on foreign oil imports."
What information would you seek out to determine which statement is the most accurate?
4. What other alternative viewpoints might there be to this issue?
5. Many of the Web sources listed above make predictions or assessments of the amount of oil that could be recovered from oil drilling in ANWR, as well as its role in reducing America's energy dependence. If you were a policy analyst assigned the task of writing a position paper on drilling in ANWR, which predicitons would you feel comfortable citing as credible assessments? Explain how you would use these assessments to argue your point.
6. Peruse the Web sources listed with the goal of checking some of the facts presented in the two essays. Using data referenced within the Web sources, explain how these sources either support or refute specific statements. In addition, assess the credibility and legitimacy of the sources you have cited.
7. Is there a bias or an agenda of any of the sources? Explain your answer.
8. What further sources can be explored for the purpose of obtaining additional (unbiased) information?
9. Is the weight of the evidence enough to persuade you to agree with one point of view or the other? Has your viewpoint changed from what it was prior to doing your research?