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Oil Drilling

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has been characterized by heated debates; where proponents for oil drilling and those in favor for the preservation of the wildlife and natural environment in have constantly clashed on governance and policy issues. While the ANWR is protected by the American constitution, significant attempts at overturning the protection status have been made constantly. The potential for oil in this region has been characterized as America’s way out of dependency on international oil suppliers.

Therefore, the significance of oil drilling in this region towards the American National and economic security has been brought forward, while the integrity of the environment and wildlife has been characterized as endangered. The raging debate attempts at finding a compromise between those advocating for oil drilling and those opposed to this idea. The debate attempts to find a common ground where the American economy is boosted through drilling oil in the ANWR, while the environmental integrity is preserved.

Problem definition and background

The underlying issue in the debate revolves around the environmental impacts of drilling in this area and the resulting contribution to global climate changes. The opponents of oil drilling observe that oil drilling is subject to probabilities, and there are no guarantees that even the most advanced technological techniques are capable of protecting the environment. These issues have been subject to constant debates in congress, where legislation was passed prohibiting any direct or indirect activities aiming at the production of gas or oil from the ANWR. This is provided in the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANICLA) (Lindstrom 2011, p. 68).

In 1960 president of the United States Dwight D. Eisenhower set aside the ANWR for wildlife conservation, and ever since then the energy industry has been trying to convert the land from a wildlife sanctuary to an industrial environment (Kris 2005 p. 1).

In light of the ANICLA Act, the raging debate is motivated by the need to alter or do away with the provisions of this act in order to allow for drilling in the ANWR.  In 1996, the senate and the house approved a bill whose provisions aimed at opening the ANWR to oil drilling, however, this attempt was blocked when the  bill was vetoed by the president; in 2005, the American senate passed a bill that intended at opening the ANWR for oil drilling(IDEA 2010). However, the house did not achieve the same success for the oil drilling proponents. A  critical aspect of the ANWR is it is the natural habitat for multiple species of animals such as caribou, arctic foxes, wolves, polar bears, snow geese, tundra swans, shorebirds, and oxen (McGraw-Hill p.1).While American politics play a critical role in the determination of ANWR’s fate, the environmental concerns have so far, taken precedent over national and corporate interests.

The drilling proponents observe that oil drilling in the ANWR will significantly improve the American national security, while reducing dependency on foreign nations to provide the American people with fuel. These observe that oil drilling will significantly boost the economy where a reduction in budgeted fuel importation costs will characterize an economic injection towards the American citizens. These will significantly reduce the federal deficits in budgets while creating new employment opportunities, especially to the natives of Alaska such as the Inupiat, who originally worked in the oil fields; therefore, this will benefit them with more job opportunities (McGraw-Hill p.1). Oil drilling proponents include gas and oil companies, lobbying organizations and auto industries among others.

On the other hand, those who do not favor drilling for oil in the ANWR such as the Gwich'in people are opposed to drilling because they depend on the land for subsistence; thus, given their location of their community, they have no need for employment, since they do not need to work in the oil fields for their livelihood (McGraw-Hill p. 1). Others that oppose to drilling the ANWR observe that while the natural resource is valuable to the American economy, the resulting impacts on the environment are long term and in most cases irreversible. Reported cases of oil spillages, where ecosystems and wildlife are wiped out, and others become extinct has been a significant argument against oil drilling (Ritzman 2011). These observe that the Alaska wilderness is not only significant to the American people but has a direct impact to the global concerns on the environment, wildlife and resulting climatic shifts. These opponents of the drilling idea include environmental groups, the Alaska coalition, and Canadian government among others.

The government is a significant stakeholder in these issues as it aims at generating additional revenues, while stabilizing the demand and supply of energy. While the US government, endeavors to reduce reliance on other countries for fuel supply; its policies on the environment dictate that protection and safeguarding of endangered ecosystems should take precedent. While the government is focused on looking for viable solutions to this debate, the American people’s objectives aim towards reduced fuel costs while increasing fuel efficiency. This has been characterized by their support for renewable energy supply.


The preservation of the ANWR’s condition has been a concern for environmentalists. They view any industrial or human activities as infringing the natural order of the wilderness as provided by law. Any disturbance on the environment or wildlife is perceived as a disregard for the sanctity of the law providing for the protection of the wilderness. The ANWR is perceived as the only naturally wild region in America, where ecosystems have not been influenced by human activities. In light of this, it is evident that environmentalists have put significant value to the preservation of the wilderness and the natural ecosystems in the ANWR. The local communities in the region observe that the preservation of the reserve is critical to their way of life and their dependency on the wild for subsistence. The value of the reserve is perceived to extend from the physical to spiritual nourishment of visitors and local communities; where the serenity of the wilderness is an ideal escape from the polluted and degraded developed areas.

Supporters of extracting oil from ANWR claim that oil deposits in the ANWR have the potential to significantly contribute to the American economy characterizes an economic injection to the government. The opposing groups have presented their cases, which are premised, on the preservation of environmental integrity of the ANWR. This has continued to dispute government findings, while asserting that the accurate measurement of ANWR’s potential for oil is not possible. This assertion has been characterized by aggressive campaigns against any industrial actions that aim at exploring the oil viability of the ANWR. The preservation of the wilderness has been a defensive stand, where issues of surrounding oil drilling are raised.

The opponents to oil drilling observe that any findings on the proponent’s part are based on estimates and projections; which cannot be accurately relied on to provide definitive quantification of the oil deposits in the ANWR. Meanwhile, they observe that while the findings on oil availability are probabilistic estimations, there are no drilling tools or techniques that will guarantee the preservation of the wilderness once drilling commences (Easton 2009, 118 – 119). This is based on the findings that oil deposits are not localized at a single area but are spread in all over the ANWR in localized oil pockets; therefore, drilling would require multiple installations, which is likely going to be considerably damaging to the land and will take considerable time to implement.

The enactment of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act was a critical milestone in environmental and wildlife preservation (Lindstrom 2011, p. 68). Therefore, conservation of the ANWR is critical in reserving the diverse geographical components, while reducing the possible impacts resulting from oil drilling on nature. The debate on the job creation and the enhancement of nation security as a result of oil drilling has been significantly premised on political motivations.

However, the political bias towards oil drilling does not lean towards individual, political groups, but comprises mixed feelings and perceptions in all political parties. Meanwhile, the proponents and opponents depend on the collective action of the house and the senate for any decisive action to be initiated (Farrar 2009, p. 175). While the debate continues, the integrity of the reserve will remain until a consensus is reached on the best way to approach the contentious issue, while satisfying all involved parties.


Oil drilling in the ANWR may be considered as a significant boost to the American economy, through an improved domestic and global supply of oil. Geologist estimates that the land under ANWR may contain as much as 12 billion barrels of oil and an estimated trillion cubic feet of natural gas in small spread out deposits (McGraw-Hill p.1). 60% of America's oil is imported; while the daily consumption is estimated at 16 million barrels, the potential 10.4 billion barrels available as deposits could significantly reduce the oil importation costs (Kriz 2005, p. 2). However, the debate surrounding the drilling issue has been a barrier to this endeavor. The energy information administration estimates that only 0.4% of United States fuel consumption will be accounted for by oil drilled from the ANWR (EIA 2002). The resulting effect in price reductions, in dollars per barrel, is estimated to range from 1.44 to 0.41; this is a significantly small margin in contrast to the high costs associated with drilling and resulting environmental impacts. However, while the oil drilling may increase global productions, it may not have a significant impact in the global markets (Fortuna 2012). The organization for petroleum exporting countries may counter this increase by a respective equivalent reduction in their oil production; therefore, no changes in the global market would be in effect.

EIA estimated oil demand in 2025 (Kriz 2005, p. 11)

ANWR contribution

0.9 million barrels

Domestic Sources

4.7 million barrels


15.2 barrels


While ANWR has been excluded from areas designated for drilling, strategic means of drilling are still being sought which will satisfy all interested parties significantly environmentalists. The United States Strategic Center for Natural Gas and Oil has been mandated to develop and research exploration methods, which are safe, cost efficient, and environment friendly. The development of new production techniques and technologies has been monumental in creating drilling methods that are more efficient on energy consumption, while increasing the reliability and capacity of pipelines. This includes capturing gas emissions and protecting ground water resources (SCNGO 2001). The achievement of these efficiencies will significantly improve the strategic advantage of oil drilling, while mitigating the concerns raised by environmental groups and other interested parties. The involvement of energy, geological surveys and land management departments in analyzing and determining the potential impacts of oil drilling is critical.

The opponents of oil drilling, on the other hand, have strategically used past scenarios such as the Prudhoe Bay area. The Prudhoe Bay area which is similar to the ANWR was exploited through extraction of oil and gas from its land. After decades of being exploited, oil development resulted to significant damaging and irreversible effects. The water and air become polluted, while the wildlife and tundra were critically harmed, meanwhile as a result of the high restoration costs, the damage most likely to persist (Kriz 2005, p.3). Resulting effects will most likely be harsher in the ANWR because the oil and gas deposits are spread out throughout the land which means there is a greater percentage of land to be drilled.  In lieu of these, the encroachment into natural reserves has resulted to catastrophic impacts to ecosystems, environment and weather pattern. The ANWR being a significant part of the American history offers an argumentative advantage, where the preservation of American heritage is brought into question.

Solutions and Recommendations

The gas and oil problem can be mitigated through higher fuel efficiency applications. These can be implemented through vigorous consumer education to influence changes in their energy consumption trend and behavior. Energy saving is essential in this endeavor; where consumers are educated to be conscious on energy saving and the use of the consumption of oil. Alternative energy sources can be instrumental in this effort. A significant investment in renewable energy sources would result in minimal reliance on other countries for oil supply, while reducing the potential burden to be incurred in the vent of domestic drilling of oil. The American citizen’s participation and sensitization of the subject of alternative energy sources and the involvement in environmental preservation efforts based on the most recent and relevant data are critical.

The government concerns in national security have not influenced decision making as far as oil drilling in ANWR is concerned; however, the government has been proactive in attempting to find new solutions to the oil problem. A review of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy regulations in 2009 was critical to the reduction of fuel consumption, where the government intended to increase fuel efficiency through technological modifications of vehicles in order to reduce gas consumption (Klier and Linn 2011, p. 7). This indicates the sensitivity of the government’s policy towards the environment and preservation efforts.


Sufficient supported data is necessary in making oil drilling proposals. In the event of any action, the public should be informed in order to quantify their views on the subject. While personal interest has been cited as motivating factors for many oil drill proponents, such factors should be inclusive and representative of all stakeholders. As the oil debate rages on, it is evident that the preservation of a nation’s heritage, environment and wildlife has significant support. Therefore, while political interests and economic sustainability may influence judgment, it is critical that evidentiary facts take precedent over perceptions and attitudes. 

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