Alaska, Oil, and Energy                                    

April 2005
Ned Hettinger

An Energy Crisis?

n      The Bush Administration’s Energy Strategy Report stated:  "America in the year 2001 faces the most serious energy shortage since the oil embargoes of the 1970's.”

n      Gas prices today (April 05) at $2.50

n      American imports over half of its oil

n      Drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is supposed to be an important part of nation’s response to this crisis

Questions explored

n      Is opening up the Arctic Refuge a step in the right direction for U.S. energy policy, for the State of Alaska, and for the human and nonhuman communities involved?

n      What do Alaskans think about drilling and why?

n      Can there be environmentally-friendly drilling for oil in the Refuge?

n      Are there better alternatives?

Alaska is by far the largest state

n     About 1/5 size of entire U.S.

n     375 million acres



Alaska’s Wild Beauty

n     Alaska’s size, remoteness, mountains, glaciers, and wildlife make it our country’s wilderness treasure



Portage Glacier

Crow Pass and Raven Glacier

History of Alaskan land and oil policy

n     Alaska statehood in 1958

n     State received right to select 104 million acres

n     State’s rights were contingent on settling Natives’ land claims

n     AK Natives claimed virtually all of AK’s 375 million acres as their own

Oil Discovery Led to Native Settlement

n     1968 oil discovered at Prudhoe Bay

n     State wanted to build an 800 mile pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, bisecting the state

n     Native Alaskans’ land claims made it impossible to get the needed rights of way

Pict of AK


n      Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1970

n      Natives got 44 million acres (12%) of AK

n      Included in ANCSA was a provision to withdraw 80 million acres for conservation lands

Battle Over AK Pipeline

n      800 mile pipeline bisecting America’s last great wilderness wasn’t going to get build easily

n      Three env. groups  (FOE, EDF, WS) and 5 Native Alaska villages sued

n      In 1973, Congress resolved the suit by passing AK pipeline authorization act

n      Senate vote was 49 to 49, Nixon’s V.P.  Spiro Agnew casting the tie breaking vote

                             Pipeline through AK range

Battle Over Alaska Conservation Lands

n      How much of Alaska would be set aside in conservation areas?

n      ANSCA deal was 80 million acres

n      Mo Udall (Pres. Carter’s Sec. of Interior) wanted 123 million acres with 60 million in wilderness

n      AK Senator Stevens wanted 60 million acres with 12 million wilderness

n      Stalemate until Pres. Carter used Antiquities Act to set aside 154 million acres in National Monuments

n      AK went berserk

1980 Compromise

n      Passage of the Alaska National Interests Lands Conservation Act

n      President Carter signed just as he left office.

n      104 million acres of new conservation land in AK with 50 million of that wilderness

n      This was a doubling of the total wilderness acreage in the U.S.

n      Carter has said this was the most important conservation legislation of 20th century

1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

n      11 million gallons

n      53rd biggest “spill”

n      11,000 miles of coastline oiled (470 direct miles; SC to DC)

n      Devastated Prince William Sound’s wildlife and human communities

n      Destroyed subsistence way of life of local people?

n      Huge wildlife losses (75% sea otters killed; loons still not recovered)

n      20% of crude oil still was there 12 years later

Animals affected by Exxon Valdez Spill

22,000 carcasses of common murres found

13,000 marbled murrelets killed

Valdez Terminal

Kenai oil tanker in Valdez

Columbia glacier icebergs

Bligh Reef



Pipeline Club

n     Will it happen again?

Tanker tied to tug

History of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

n      Pres. Eisenhower—in response to a campaign of Muries and Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas set aside Refuge in 1960

n      19.8 million acres in north east AK, bordering Canada (slightly larger SC)

n      17.5 permanently off limits to development (wilderness)

n      1.5 million acre coastal plain (1002 area) Congress can open for oil/gas development

                 Special Place?

n      Defenders unique geography makes it a wildlife/wildland treasure

n      Brooks Range swings to within 40 miles of coast, range of arctic ecosystems  in a small area

n      Interior Sec. Gale Norton has called it a  flat white nothingness

n      “A Godforsaken mosquito-infested swamp shrouded in frozen darkness ½ year”

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says

"The Arctic Refuge is among the most complete, pristine, and undisturbed ecosystems on earth. Here coastal lagoons, barrier islands, arctic tundra, foothills, mountains, and boreal forests provide a combination of habitats, climate, and geography unmatched by any other northern conservation area“


"This unique compression of habitats concentrates the occurrence of a wide variety of wildlife and fish species.... In fact, according to FWS, the Arctic Refuge coastal plain contains the greatest wildlife diversity of any protected area above the Arctic Circle." 

  Species in Refuge

    “The area's large mammals also include grizzly bears, polar bears, Dall sheep, wolves, moose, and a herd of rare muskoxen. 135 species of birds are known to use the 1002 area, including large flocks of snow geese which feed on the area's nutritious vegetation in the fall in preparation for their long flight to their wintering grounds in the Central Valley of California. Other animal species of the area include shorebirds, loons, songbirds, and raptors, as well as fish such as the Arctic char and Arctic grayling.

Caribou in Denali

Arguments against ANWR drilling

n     95% of Alaska’s Arctic Coastal plain is already open to oil drilling

n     Prudhoe Bay’s poor env. record:  400 oil spills a year since 1996

u  Large amounts of air pollution

u  Only one EPA worker on North Slope

How much oil in ANWR?

n     USGS 1998:  3.2 to 6.3 billion barrels (7-13 month U.S. supply)

n     Proponents say 10-16 billion barrels (2-3 year supply)

n     USGS says 5% chance of 16 billion

Conservation/Efficiency Alternative


n     Enhancing energy efficiency in buildings and industry could easily save us as much oil

V.P. Dick Cheney






n     “Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.”

Cheney on Conservation (continued)

n      To think that “we could simply conserve or ration our way out” of the energy crisis is 1970's era thinking.

n      Supports energy efficiency only when it does not reduce living standards or negatively impact U.S. industry.

n      Opposes any energy conservation measures based on the idea that Americans now “live too well” or that people should “do more with less.”


Economy          Standards             (CAFÉ)



n      Adopted in 1975, average rose from 14 to 27mpg by mid 80s

n      No significance increases in CAFÉ since

n      Because of the popularity of SUVs (only required to average 20.7 mpg vs 27.5 for cars), in 2002 average U.S. fuel economy fell to its lowest level since 1980

n      China has proposed more stringent rules

n      Raising CAFÉ from 27 to 40 mpg would save a billion barrels a year

Can there be Env. Friendly Drilling in ANWR? 


n     New drilling technologies cast doubt on the claim that ANWR will be as devastated as Prudhoe Bay


n     Not clear that the Prudhoe Bay oilfields a disaster for wildlife

New Drilling Technology

n      Small well pads with drills branching out 4-5 miles underground

n      2000 acres of total disturbance out of 1.5 million acres?

n      Drilling mud, contaminated water, spilled oil, and discarded chemicals formerly put in waste pits can be ground into a slurry and pumped underground

n      Gravel roads (mined from river beds) spread all over fragile tundra can now be built from ice that melts in spring

n      The maze of oil collecting pipelines can be raised for animals to duck under and elevated elbows lessen effects of spills

Oil Pad

                 Ice Road

Caribou under pipeline

Bear on Pipeline

New Survey Techniques

n     The success rate raised from 1 producing well for each 10 exploratory wells to 5 in 10. 

n     Dynamite no longer used, but vibrating 10-ton “thumper trucks” crisscross tundra in an intensive way leaving scars disrupting wildlife

n     2000 acre figure doesn’t include this

Thumper Truck

Damage from Thumper Truck (in Utah)

1984 track from seismic exploration

Same track in 1999 (15 years later)

Critics Aren’t Impressed

n     “Once the work shifts from exploration to extraction of oil, the result is always a sprawl of pipelines, roads, crew quarters, and fuel depots:  In the end, even with all this technology, you’ve got a massive industrial complex.”

Alaska’s Oil Addiction

n      78% of state budget is funded by North Slope oil revenue

n      Alaskans pay no state income or sales taxes

n      Each Alaskan receives yearly check from state oil revenues; Typically it is $1000 to $2,000.

n      Oil from Prudhoe Bay is running out (From 19 billion barrels to 6.4 now); Pipeline flow down 50%.

n      No wonder 75% of Alaskans support drilling in the arctic.

Natives’ perspective

n      Inupiat Eskimos who live in ANWR next to 1002 support it; 78% in Kaktovik

n      Own oil/gas rights in ANWR which can’t be leased unless ANWR opened up

n      Do not live a subsistence lifestyle but are part of the modern cash economy

n      One of the US’s wealthiest Native groups

n      Oppose offshore oil development fearing it would harm bowhead whale hunt important to their cultural identity

Inupiat Eskimos of Kaktovic

Gwich’in Indians oppose

n      Fear it will harm Porcupine Caribou herd

n      Don’t live in ANWR but hunt caribou that migrate there.

n      Live (mostly) a subsistence lifestyle; Caribou meat 80% of tribal diet

n      Ethic of hunters sharing caribou meat essential to their culture

n      1002: “Sacred birthing ground of caribou and ultimately of Gwich’in people”


Effects on Porcupine Caribou herd?

n      150,000 animals migrate to coastal plain in summer for foraging, protection from predators and insect, and to calve

n      Canadian estimate: Drilling could cause 40% decline in birthrate

n      Central Artic herd near Prudhoe bay:  “Thriving” (oil industry) or “calving near Prudhoe Bay nearly ceased”(Canadians)

n      Porcupine herd has no where to move

Caribou and Oil Rig

n     One study:  “Wildlife adapted well to oil drilling.”

Tentative conclusions


n     Should not risk cultural genocide

n     Even “environmentally-friendly” oil development would ruin the Arctic Refuge’s pristine character



Should not risk cultural genocide

n      Gwich’in spokesperson Faith Gemmil:  “Don’t’ sacrifice our way of life for short term economic gain.”

n      Some impact on Porcupine Herd likely; but probably not enough to undermine the Gwich’in subsistence hunt and way of life

n      But even a tiny chance of causing cultural genocide should prevent drilling

u   Especially given our the history of our treatment of Natives Americans

Oil development would ruin the Arctic Refuge’s pristine nature


n      A significant part of the value of this place is that it is untouched by modern human industrial desire

n      The pristine, virginal character of places like the Arctic Refuge are necessarily spoiled even by environmentally careful petro development

n      Temporary McDonalds in Louvre?

n      Sexual assault while sedated?

Current politics of ANWR (April 2005)

n      On March 18, Senate voted 51-49 to include revenue from drilling in the Refuge in the federal budget

n      This means that opponents of drilling cannot use a filibuster to block oil development in the Refuge

u    A filibuster can only be broken by 60 votes, something drilling proponents don’t have

n      Last year a federal budget was not passed, and so drilling opponents have some hope this will occur again

n      They also hope that the drilling provision will be taken out of the budget in future votes