NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Misconceptions about Drilling in ANWR

September 10, 2001

Misconceptions about the Bush administration's proposal to open a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to drilling for oil may be explained in part by misleading characterizations of the facts from opposition lobbyists.

One frequently repeated claim is that ANWR is "America's last pristine wilderness." But a refuge is not the same thing as a wilderness area, and the coastal area where drilling would occur is not "pristine."

  • Of the 19.6 million acres of ANWR, only 8 million acres are designated wilderness.
  • Drilling would only occur on 2,000 acres of the coastal plain that is not part of the wilderness.
  • Nor is the coastal plain pristine -- a community of native Americans already exists there, and there are operating military installations there as well.

Another claim is that the birthing season of the caribou would be disturbed by drilling in ANWR.

  • When drilling began in nearby Prudhoe Bay, the caribou herd there numbered 6,000.
  • Today the herd numbers 28,000.

And finally, is the claim that there is "only" six months worth of oil under the ANWR plain.

  • That claim is based on a U.S. Geological Survey estimate that there of 3.2 billion barrels of economically recoverable oil -- which is less than six months of America's TOTAL oil usage today.
  • However, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) says with certainty there is 5.7 billion barrels and expects there to be 10.3 billion barrels of recoverable oil.
  • The EIA figures are equivalent to 11 to 30 years of oil imports from Saudi Arabia.

But even these 1998 EIA estimates are probably low, because they are based on data which by today's techniques underestimates discovered reserves.

Source: Gretchen Randall, "Ten Second Response: League of Conservation Voters Urges Members to Contact Senators as ANWR Vote Approaches," September 6, 2001, National Center for Public Policy Research, 777 N. Capitol Street, N.E., Suite 803, Washington, D.C. 20002,(202) 371-1400.

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