Alaska

Will Opening Up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Spark Another Alaska Oil Boom?

And would that mean driving a stake through its "biological heart"?

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CaribouPrudhoeBayOilUSFWS
U.S. FWS

"Please God, give me one more oil boom. This time I promise not to piss it away." I heard that phrase several times when I was on a lecture tour in Alaska in the early 1990s. In 1979, just two years after crude had begun flowing down the Alaska pipeline from the North Slope, the real price of oil was nearly $100 per barrel. By the time of my visit, the price had fallen to under $25 per barrel. Back then about 1.5 million barrels per day were arriving at the marine shipping terminal in Valdez. Today the total is under 500,000 barrels per day.

The just-passed Tax Cut and Jobs Act authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a small section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), so Alaskans may get a shot at that extra oil boom. The region may contain as much as 10 billion barrels of technically recoverable petroleum. The Prudhoe Bay field next door was originally estimated to contain 25 billion barrels, of which nearly 13 billion have been produced.

Naturally, environmentalist are upset. Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), for example, declared: "As if this tax bill were not terrible enough, it goes after one of the most beautiful places on Earth. This is the biological heart of the refuge and will drive a stake right through it."

Let's consider what's actually on the table. In 1980, Congress specifically set aside part of the ANWR coastal plain for future oil and natural gas exploration and production. The tax bill authorizes lease bids on just 2,000 more acres—about one-tenth of one percent of the 19 million acre refuge. While some may consider the mosquito-infested boggy coastal plain "beautiful," the fact is that the remote ANWR (including the more scenic mountain regions) receives between 1,200 and 1,500 visitors annually.

Environmentalists claim that hydrocarbon exploration and production will disrupt the caribou herds that roam the refuge. This same argument was made when the original production from Prudhoe Bay began. But as drilling, construction, and production ramped up around the Prudhoe Bay region in the 1970s, the Central Arctic Herd actually expanded from 3,000 animals in 1972 to nearly 70,000 caribou by 2010. Since then the herd size has fallen to 22,000. Researchers don't blame the herd's decline on oil and gas production—which, after all, has not been increasing. Instead they cite increased mortality due to the late arrival of spring in 2013 and 2014. In addition, some animals from Central Arctic Herd migrated to join the larger Porcupine Herd.

The Porcupine Herd, which roams areas of the ANWR where no oil or gas production or exploration has taken place, also experienced significant population ups and downs. In the 1970s, the herd contained an estimated 100,000 animals. That number rose to about 175,000 by 1990, then fell back to 125,000 or so by 2000. By 2013, the herd size had grown to 197,000.

A report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game notes that number of caribou in Alaskan Arctic herds reached 700,000 in the first decade of the 21st century. This might have resulted in overgrazing, which is now contributing to the decline of some of the herds. In any case, it seems unlikely that oil and gas leasing in ANWR will drive a stake through its biological heart.

Even if oil companies are interested in oil production in the ANWR, it will likely take at least a decade before crude begins flowing from the refuge, due partly to the technical complications of working in the Arctic and partly, of course, to the inevitable lawsuits coming from environmental activist groups.

Disclosure: As part of my lecture fee, I extracted from my University of Alaska–Anchorage sponsors a visit to the Prudhoe Bay production facilities on the North Slope in February. It was around -50 degrees Fahrenheit (with a wind chill). The caribou were sensibly hiding out in the mountains far to the south.

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24 responses to “Will Opening Up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Spark Another Alaska Oil Boom?

  1. The tax bill authorizes lease bids on just 2,000 more acres?about one-tenth of one percent of the 19 million acre refuge.

    Check my math but I believe 2,000 is closer to 1/100th of one percent.

  2. But the Earth-Goddess will know that we’re plundering from her bounty with evil machines, regardless of what the caribou think! All that really matters is if Gaia is pleased with us, and she demands sacrifice of several billion humans! Who are you do deny the Earth Mother?!

    /sarc

    But really, these clowns are more devout that most of the people I went to Catholic school with.

  3. I remember on TV the media were bitching about how it would be useless to open the reserves, since it’ll take at least 10 years to get it up and running. That was 16 years ago….

  4. I thought the Porcupine Herd was in New Hampshire.

  5. A few thoughts:

    1) They should have Elon Musk build the pipeline. It would reassure the proggies that we aren’t raping Mother Gaia.

    2) I call fake news on the herd diminishing due to a “late spring”. We all know the polar ice caps disappeared in 2014 and the arctic is pretty much like the tropics.

    1. 1) They should have Elon Musk build the pipeline. It would reassure the proggies that we aren’t raping Mother Gaia.

      Because they like Elon Musk or because the hyperloop doesn’t yet run anywhere and Tesla is pretty good at not selling cars that you can’t even pay people to drive? Both?

    2. If Elon Musk can lay pipe through this national treasure without damaging it, I think we can trust him with Alaska.

      1. So THATS what tits look like!!

  6. “The caribou were sensibly hiding out in the mountains far to the south.”

    Q: What’s the difference between caribou and reindeer?

    1. One is American, the other European.

    2. Caribou is used more often as a song/album name?

    3. reindeer have names?

      1. You know Dasher, and Dancer, and
        Prancer, and Vixen,
        Comet, and Cupid, and
        Donder and Blitzen.
        But do you recall
        The most famous reindeer of all?

        1. Ted Kennedy? I hear he had a shiny nose…

  7. In addition, some animals from Central Arctic Herd migrated to join the larger Porcupine Herd.

    And Heaven knows what’s in today is being part of the Porcupine herd. Along wit belonging to the Lollipop Guild.

  8. it will likely take at least a decade before crude begins flowing from the refuge, due partly to the technical complications of working in the Arctic[…]

    Especially with all those wolf packs that are capable of bringing down even a determined Liam Neeson.

  9. Actually, Zinke and the Trump Administration offered the largest Arctic oil leases and the sale fell flat on its face. Seems like most drillers aren’t really interested:

    DENVER?Today, the Interior Department conducted its much-anticipated oil lease sale for lands within the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. The lease sale, which was announced by Secretary Zinke as part of the administration’s push for “energy dominance,” offered all 10.3 million acres currently available within the wildlife-rich reserve.

    The sale yielded bids for merely 7 tracts of the 900 offered, totalling $1.16 million. Of the 10.3 million acres offered, only 79,000 acres received bids, or 0.8 percent.

    http://westernpriorities.org/2…..istration/

  10. …a visit to the Prudhoe Bay production facilities on the North Slope in February. It was around -50 degrees Fahrenheit (with a wind chill).

    Count your blessings. Yeah, -50 is cold but in the summer it’s hot with clouds of mosquitoes and biting flies. That caribou clump together enough to be counted is just a mad dash to get away from the bugs.

  11. Much of ANWR has nothing but rocks and possibly some lichen. It’s an Arctic desert.

  12. https://goo.gl/XnqbdH

    There are about 40 million people living in 90 thru 100% now. this will easily change and grow to many more millions in a very short time. Why dig up fossil fuels when we can have all the energy we want from clean renewable energy?

    1. … because We’re Not “There” Yet.
      Or is that too complex of an idea for you?

      I’ve got nothing against ‘renewables.’ My wife and I each drive Priuses, we’ve got 20 PV panels on our roof, and nearly every lamp in our home is LED.

      Each of which was an attempt to lower our energy consumption COSTS.

      I’d love to have a nice, little Thorium reactor buried in my back yard, too, but It Ain’t There Yet. Virtually all other solutions are more expensive TODAY than the end game you’re working towards. That’s Why!

      1. Nice troll takedown. That dipshit keeps popping up around these parts sloshing around mindless proggie swill.

  13. The Porcupine herd? Is that a thing?

  14. So we live on a finite planet, and we’re just beginning to understand how it works.

    And those studying it are telling us we’re polluting our home with our exhaust, but the majority think they know better.

    Is this where we start throwing people off the life boat, because I’m more than happy to lend a hand?

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