NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Anti-Arctic Drilling Fears Misplaced

August 3, 2001

The House has approved limited drilling in the vast Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). But those who worry that widespread damage will be visited on a pristine paradise should rethink their prejudices, critics say.

First, consider Alaska's vastness.

  • Four Californias would fit inside Alaska, and it contains 60 percent of all the nation's official wilderness areas.
  • The ANWR itself is 19.6 million acres, about the size of South Carolina.
  • On the very northern cusp of flat tundra - about eight percent of the total - are 2,000 acres on which the House authorized exploratory drilling.
  • That's the size of Dulles Airport - and 50 times smaller than the Montana ranch of mogul Ted Turner, who has helped bankroll the anti-drilling efforts.

As for the area's "pristine beauty," the coastal plain of the Arctic Ocean is a flat, treeless, peat bog in the summer. It's a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects like the vicious warble fly, which can stampede whole herds of caribou. When winter brings its temperatures of 70 degrees below zero (not counting wind chill) there is no sun for 56 straight days.

The caribou, rather than suffering from the presence of oil drilling, use the existing Prudhoe Bay area pipelines for shade on hot days, cozy up to them for warmth in the cold, and have increased their numbers five-fold. They seem to welcome the presence of the drillers as much as the indigenous -- and very poor -- Inupiat Eskimos, who overwhelmingly support oil drilling because they'll get jobs and a cut of the profits.

Source: Jonah Goldberg, "Ugh, Wilderness!" National Review, August 6, 2001, and "Big Oil, Caribou, and Greed," National Review Online, July 20, 2001.


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