NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Environmental Risks Of Drilling In Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

January 24, 2001

Environmental opposition to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploration ignores the history of ecologically safe oil drilling in Alaska and the considerable benefit that ANWR's vast oil reserves would provide, says the National Center For Public Policy Research.

  • Environmentalists contend oil exploration would turn ANWR into a vast landscape of unsightly derricks, roads and pipelines that would irreparably harm the refuge's scenic attractions.
  • They also claim that oil drilling poses unacceptable risks to the polar bears, caribou and other ANWR wildlife.

But experts say it is possible to drill for oil in ANWR without hurting the refuge's environment.

  • At Prudhoe Bay on Alaska's North Slope, 60 miles west of ANWR, companies recover 1.4 million barrels of oil per day; yet drilling rigs, production facilities and gravel roads cover only two percent of the 250,000 acre Prudhoe Bay field.
  • Due to advances in drilling technology, oil companies would only use as little as 2,000 acres of the 19 million acre ANWR to recover huge amounts of oil, estimated to be as much as 16 billion barrels.

Although there is not one species of animal from either the North Slope or the ANWR coastal plain that is listed as endangered, wildlife would be protected.

  • For example, the Marine Mammals Protection Act protects the polar bears in the North Slope oil fields, and not a single polar bear has been killed or injured due to operations at Prudhoe Bay.
  • Likewise, there is little reason to fear that caribou at ANWR would be harmed given that the Prudhoe Bay caribou herd has actually grown in size since the 1970s.

Source: John Carlisle, "Environmentalists' Opposition to Oil Exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Is Unfounded," National Policy Analysis No. 324, January 23, 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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