Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Why drilling in ANWR is a bad idea

Bru's note: This post is an adaptation of an email reply to a forwarded message by a family friend containing this misinformation about drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Apparently this misinformation has been circulating around conservative websites, as a simple Google search will reveal. The forwarded message I received contained the hilarious preface: "I received this from my nephew who is an oil geologist and successful wildcatter in Texas and Montana."

I'm hoping to update this ANWR truth post and refine it over time to include more information on why drilling in ANWR is a bad idea. This is just the first draft.

The best sources of recent information are the U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration (EIA) May 2008 report on ANWR and an analysis by Congress's Joint Economic Committee. I would tend to trust the EIA over someone's "nephew who is an oil geologist and successful wildcatter in Texas and Montana". (wtf?)

* Drilling in ANWR would lower gas prices by one to four cents ($0.01 to $0.04) by 2025. So, in other words, if gas is $6.00 per gallon in 2025, drilling in ANWR would lower prices to $5.96 to $5.99 per gallon. Hugh savings, eh?

* There is just not that much oil there, relative to what our country consumes. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated that 10.4 billion barrels of oil are technically recoverable in the "1002 Area", which basically comprises the coastal plain of ANWR. 10.4 billion barrels may sound like a lot, but consider that the U.S. consumes over 20.6 million barrels of oil per day.

Furthermore, consider that only part of the 1002 area was designated by Congress as open for drilling in the 1980 act that established ANWR. This area only has an estimate of 7.7 billion barrels of oil. The other part of the 1002 area belongs to Native peoples.

What's more, this estimate is only given by USGS as being 50 percent likely. There could be more oil, but there could be less. (There is a 5 percent chance of there being at least 11.8 billion barrels, and a 95 percent chance of there being at least 4.2 billion barrels.)

Moreover, this is just "technically recoverable" oil, which means oil that could be recovered without consideration of cost constraints. Economically recoverable oil may be a lot lower. Using the 50 percent figure of 7.7 billion barrels of oil and making the generous assumption that all of it is economically recoverable, then ANWR could only provide enough oil to supply U.S. consumption for 296 days, or less than 10 months.

And this is assuming current oil demand, not demand in 2016 (1), when ANWR oil production would finally begin contributing to oil supply and oil demand will likely be much higher.

* Oil infrastructure is more than a "point". The photo below suggesting oil development would be no larger than an itty-bitty dot is an insult to rational thinking. Does this supposed "oil geologist" think that crude oil magically appears as gasoline in people's gas tanks after being pumped out of the ground? The truth is that each well would have to be connected to a pipeline system, and accessible by road. The footprint of drilling in this 1.5 million acre area would be more than just the wells. The chance for an oil spill is also very real. In 2006, a corroded BP pipeline leaked 267,000 gallons of crude oil in Prudhoe Bay, which is an existing oil production zone not far west of the ANWR coastal plain.

* It is a lie to suggest wildlife aren't affected by oil infrastructure based on a few token photographs of wildlife coinciding with a background of oil facilities. To cite one example, a 1992 report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game found significant disruption of caribou calving by oil infrastructure development in Prudhoe Bay. Here is the report's abstract (emphasis added):

---- Aerial surveys were conducted annually in June 1978-87 near Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, to determine changes in the distribution of calving caribou (Rangifer tarandus granfi) that accompanied petroleum-related development. With construction of an oil field access road through a calving concentration area, mean caribou density (no./km2) decreased from 1.41 to 0.31 (P = 0.05) within 1 km and increased from 1.41 to 4.53 (P = 0.04) 5-6 km from the road. Concurrently, relative caribou use of the adjacent area declined (P < 0.02), apparently in response to increasing surface development. We suggest that perturbed distribution associated with roads reduced the capacity of the nearby area to sustain parturient females [i.e. females in labor and about to give birth] and that insufficient spacing of roads may have depressed overall calving activity. Use of traditional calving grounds and of certain areas therein appears to favor calf survival, principally through lower predation risk and improved foraging conditions. Given the possible loss of those habitats through displacement and the crucial importance of the reproductive process, a cautious approach to petroleum development on the Arctic Slope is warranted.----

Here is the link to the article:

* The coastal plain is not a "barren wasteland". When all you can think about is "drill, baby, drill", like many conservatives, you probably don't want to face the simple fact that just because a few photos don't show massive amounts of large, furry animals, that nothing exists of biological importance on the coastal plain. But when Rush Limbaugh "drill, baby, drills" ludicrous talking points into conservatives' heads on a daily basis such as, "The wildlife that lives [in ANWR] wishes it didn't, but it's too stupid to figure out how to move anywhere" (yes, he actually said that), the overwhelming ignorance of misinformation such as this pro-drilling email is not surprising.

In reality, ANWR is a treasure trove of wildlife. That's why it's a wildlife refuge. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is home to some of the most diverse and spectacular wildlife in the arctic. The Refuge's rich pageant of wildlife includes 36 fish species, 36 land mammals, nine marine mammals, and more than 160 migratory and resident bird species." The FWS has a detailed list of all this wildlife: The 1002 area, where conservatives want to put oil derricks, pipelines, and access roads, shares in this great biological diversity. According to the FWS, "The [1002] area includes habitat important to the Porcupine and Central Arctic Caribou Herds, as well as many other species." (Source:

Additional resources:

Here is the EIA report (commissioned, interestingly, by Ted Stevens):
Here is the USGS report:
BP oil spill in 2006:


(1) Burgos, Russell A. "Unraveling myths about ANWR drilling: It just won't work." Ventura County Star. June 16, 2008.


SBVOR said...


Find the facts on ANWR right here.

SBVOR said...


The EIA is a pretty good source for some things (mostly lowball estimations of proven reserves). But, counting on the EIA for economic analysis (as your source did) is extraordinarily unwise.

Examine this chart from this post.

An imbalance between the world demand for crude oil and the world supply of crude oil caused the price of a barrel of oil to roughly triple. Yet, notice that this imbalance NEVER exceeded 1 million barrels per day.

As you can see in this chart, once that supply/demand ratio got back in balance, the price of oil plummeted! It is now below $70 per barrel, almost back to where it was before the imbalance.

If we got 1 million barrels per day from ANWR (as many estimates suggest we would) this recent imbalance would have been averted by this ONE source alone! Now, take a look at this chart from this post and realize what the REAL impact on the price of gasoline will be by drilling here and drilling now!


SBVOR said...

Update to my previous comment:

The imbalance which caused the price spikes of 2008 never exceeded 0.8 million barrels per day (and, during most of that period of imbalance, was well below that figure).

Again, ANWR alone could have prevented the WORLDWIDE price spikes we saw in 2008.

Now, just imagine the possibilities if we were to develop the rest of our tremendous domestic hydrocarbon resources.

Just one problem - Obstructionist Democrats likely to take total control of the entire Federal government.

Educate yourself!

Anonymous said...

Couple of points though. Palin isn't exactly unbiased. She's unabashedly in favor of opening up ANWR to drilling. She's also been known to twist facts to suit her purposes. And EIA is an arm of the 'gubmint.' So I'd say their results might be a little slanted. How much is there is speculative. It's all 'could', 'potentially', 'possibly'. Everything except the fact that the wilderness would never be the same. That's pretty definite.

Finally, this is just staving off the inevitable anyway. At some point, right or wrong, oil rigs will come to ANWR because the US is the most rapacious country on the planet. But oil is not a renewable resource, people. Not in our lifetimes, or our children's.