Here They Go Again

Politico has recently published How Science Got Trampled in the Rush to Drill in Arctic–ANWR.  This article is clearly a reflection of the environmentalist case for opposing drilling for oil in Arctic Wildlife Refuge, although it does provide a balanced view of the support and opposition from Alaskan natives..  ANWR has been a controversial issue for decades and only now is coming close to a resolution.

The Politico article would leave the uninformed reader to the conclusion that the Trump Administration has a philosophy of damn the facts, let’s just drill. Reasonable people, especially Alaska natives, can be on either side of the drill-don’t drill question.  But the article does not provide a good context for making an informed judgment.  It clearly is making the case that the environmental risks exceed the benefits.  The case is not as clear as Politico attempts to make it. Here are some facts that have been omitted that offer a different perspective.

  • Many of the objections being raised against drilling and its threat to wild life are the same ones that were raised about the Alaskan pipeline and drilling in Prudhoe Bay.  Forty-two years after the first production in Prudhoe Bay, history has proven those objections to have been overwrought and wrong.  Wildlife has continued to flourish and the environment has been protected.
  • ANWR is 19.6 million acres which is about the size of South Carolina.  The area where drilling and potential production would take place is about the size of Washington’s Dulles Airport. Given that context, it is hard to envision how the alleged threats could be credible.
  • There is no guarantee that a lease to drill would result in actual production.  There has only been one well drilled in the area under consideration and the results of that well have never been revealed.  This wouldn’t be the first case where favorable geology turned out to be misleading.
  • The environmental assessment reported on by Politico is required by law but it is not the only environmental information available to judge whether drilling and production can be carried out safely. The final decision should be based on the totality of information that has been developed over several decades.
  • The lives of the natives who live on the Coastal Plain have improved substantially since oil production began at Prudhoe Bay. Successful production in ANWR would further enhance their quality of life and standard of living.

Decisions to produce oil depend on more than its presence.  It has to be discovered in commercial quantities that are sufficient to justify the total cost of production over the lifetime of production. In addition to drilling costs, there are infrastructure and transportation costs plus the costs of operating in a hostile environment.  The current abundance of oil globally has helped to keep the price of oil below $60 a barrel. The recent price history of crude oil combined with uncertainty about future prices might not make ANWR production a good business decision.


Founder and president of Solutions Consulting which focuses on public policy issues, strategic planning, and strategic communications.

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