A faint smile crosses Gabi Stepan’s face as she reminisces about home, a place marked by the picturesque mountain peaks surrounding Anchorage, Alaska. The speech pathology and audiology sophomore now wakes up to a view of the Red Cedar River from her dorm room instead of the Cook Inlet in her scenic hometown. For students like Stepan and other Alaskan residents, the wilderness of their northern home state faces devastation in upcoming years by the prospect of oil drilling within the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR).
The consumption of oil in the United States, unsurprisingly, ranks the highest in the world. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) found the United States not only consumes the most oil, but also uses over three times as much as China, slated second for oil usage. China’s population exceeds one billion people, while the United States remains under 300 million. What are we using all this oil for?
[alaska] Oil is something we might take for granted and it is used for everything from operating cars to manufacturing perfume. We need oil in today’s world until we can shift to only sustainable energy sources. Until then, where do we get all the oil? According to the EIA, the United States produces over eight million barrels of oil per day, while consuming 20 million barrels. This means we are importing over 11 million barrels of oil every day, 365 days per year.
In recent years, the United States has been searching for its own oil reserves to decrease dependency on foreign fuel sources; avoid subsequent conflicts and, of course, reduce cost. The search was quickly directed to the northernmost state of Alaska. Already the oil industry in that region is booming, acting as one of the most prominent contributions to the Alaskan economy. Most of this oil comes from drilling near Prudhoe Bay, on the northern shore of the Arctic Ocean. It is predicted there is a great deal of oil in this remote expanse, unfortunately located within the ANWR.
The section of the ANWR being sought for drilling is commonly referred to as the 1002 area, and it is only a fraction of the landscape – 1.5 million of the 19 million acres of the wildlife refuge. Because of the advanced technology now available, it has been predicted, along the coastal plains where plans for drilling are feasible, the EIA reported a 95 percent probability that 5.7 billion barrels of oil could be recovered. If this proves true, it would greatly reduce import costs and foreign dependency.
In order to drill in the untouched 1002 area, it will be necessary to develop an infrastructure on the land; roads and heavy construction are inevitable, as is disruption of the environment. These small modifications could eventually lead to a huge change in the area’s ecosystem. If roads are built within the refuge, it not only allows access to the area for drilling companies, but also for people who may not respect the surroundings. Although red flags are not currently waving above the trees and caution lights are not flashing from moose antlers, the drilling could devastate the local inhabitants, unique wildlife and pristine landscape.
Those most affected by the possibility of drilling in this habitat are the ones most often overlooked by oil tycoons. The Gwich’in people are native to the area within the ANWR and rely on resident caribou for food, clothing and tools. They interact with the “Porcupine” caribou herd, which consists of over 100,000 caribou that cover a range even larger than the ANWR. The animals are a key element in the ecosystem and a necessary part of the Gwich’in lifestyle. Changes in the land could affect the habitat of the caribou, possibly forcing them in directions that would make them more accessible to predators and vulnerable to aspects of the environment they are not accustomed to, and would likely cause complications for the people relying on them for survival.
Despite the Gwich’in objection, the majority of Alaskans are responding positively to the possibility of drilling because oil is such a major player in the Alaskan economy. Drilling the 1002 would create more jobs and ultimately bring more money to Alaska. Many businesses would benefit from a rise in population and the likely increase in tourism to follow.
[gabi] After moving to Michigan, Stepan was amazed at the extravagant size and number of cars on the roads and in the garages of Michiganders. “I don’t understand why people need to drive their Hummers to the grocery store,” she said. Because so many people work for car manufacturers in the “Motor City,” they are given discounts on vehicles, which in turn allows them to spend the money they saved purchasing a larger SUV for themselves and their children, consistently increasing the number of vehicles per household. Stepan’s family has had a hybrid car since 2001. “At first it was strange to think I had a battery-operated car,” she said, “but they are really great and so much gentler on the environment.”
Ironically enough, the oil industry in the Alaskan culture seems to be what the automotive industry is to Detroit. But opinions about whether or not companies should dig in to the supply of “black gold” in Alaska vary, even among Michigan residents thousands of miles away. Spanish junior Heather Thomas supports the push for drilling. “If this is something that will decrease our dependency on foreign oil imports then, yes, I do think this is something that would be good for our economy, especially if it will lower our costs on top of it.” Communication senior Cat Yeh disagrees. “I feel like the environment should come first,” she said. “Yes, it would be beneficial to our country to import less oil than we are as of now, but part of the reason it has come to this is because people don’t realize their excessive use of luxuries like oversized cars that add to this problem.”
The long-term effects of drilling in ANWR are a major concern for Stepan and her family. Although she agrees we need the oil that could be recovered, the environmental risks leave her with mixed feelings about the situation. “I would like to see the oil reserves located exactly [where they are now] and kept just as that…reserves.” She has seen the aftermath of oil spills, where the environment has never completely recovered, and the possibility of it occurring in the ANWR is a potential disaster. Also, the oil reserves will eventually run out. Then not only will we have tapped our natural oil reserves, but we will be without one of the last unspoiled natural regions of the world. Decreased foreign dependency, decreased costs and increased revenue for the United States would help our current economy tremendously, but can we put a price on our environment?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *