Oil Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

1114 words | 4 page(s)

It is an extraordinary fact of world affairs today that commercial interests are confronting environmental concerns as never before. As awareness of climate change at least partially fueled by human production, as well as documented harm done to natural environments, increases, so too is there a greater demand for those processes as enabling societies to function as they desire. Debate rages, and there is no clearer example of this conflict than the proposed drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). As will be revealed in the following, the realities of commercial need as unreliable motivations, the application of such needs to distort ethics, and the irrefutable damage such oil drilling will create all combine to render oil drilling in the ANWR an unconscionable agenda, and one profoundly contrary to the nation’s professed ethics and priorities.

The support for oil drilling in the ANWR, by no means minimal or lacking in influence, is largely based on perceived economic realities. Alaskans tend to overwhelmingly support drilling because the operations would inestimably boost the state’s economy, as exemplified by then-Governor’s 2008 campaign of, “Drill, baby, drill!” (Johnson, Uradnik, & Bower 210). Then, other Americans, increasingly frustrated by higher prices of fuel, take the view that oil as obtained from an American region would both brings costs down and promote American autonomy. Exhaustive geological studies indicate, moreover, that the oil is very much there, and the probability of retrieving nearly two billion barrels from the ANWR is 95 percent (ANWR). These, then, are the basic factors supporting the drilling.

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Nonetheless, there are issues beyond these factors that reveal how ethics and pragmatic approaches are strongly linked. Fluctuating oil supply from other sources clearly sways support in the ANWR drilling, but a closer inspection of the situation reveals extreme shortsightedness wherein both ethics and practical issues are neglected. Even proponents of drilling in the ANWR concede that such an operation must significantly impact the natural environment. The developing of oil production and transport facilities is, in no uncertain terms, a lengthy and intrusive undertaking, and one that commands the arena in which it is done (Corn et al 4). When this is set against the known reality of shifting oil supplies, the issue becomes far more compelling. More exactly, this is a scenario in which the government and oil companies are considering the blatant polluting, if not destruction, of an unusually rich natural habitat because oil from other sources, such as the Middle East, has become less certain over the years, as well as more costly. In essence, suspect practical motives are then allowed to warp ethics.

President Bush’s administration fought strenuously to begin drilling in the ANWR because Middle East relations were at their most precarious, and there was a pronounced element of serving the national interest employed; that is, using American oil would free Americans from dependence on foreign powers, and this has consistently been a great argument for pro-drilling factions (Johnson, Uradnik, & Bower 210). Drilling in the ANWR, however, is then something of a “quick fix” which ignores environmental concerns and merely forestalls further issues of fuel consumption. The aspect of immediacy in the ANWR may be seen by noting that the Bakken oil field, located mainly in North Dakota and Montana, has been identified as possessing as much, if not more, fuel, and only the difficulty of drilling through the rock layers has set this option to the side (Johnson, Uradnik, & Bower 210). Equally important is how these “practical” approaches are essentially impractical. Rather than develop and employ other fuels and/or make efforts to curtail consumption, there is instead an insistence of keeping the supply as available as possible, even as it is known that all such supplies are finite. Ethics, then, are ignored just as effectively as are genuinely rational approaches.

There is as well the serious issue of impact both immediate and long-term, both to the Alaskan territory and the wider environments. As noted, there can be no drilling in the ANWR without harm done to the life there, a fact fully acknowledged by the government. In discreet language, it asserts from projections of drilling impact the following: “Major effects were defined as ‘widespread, long-term change in habitat availability or quality which would likely modify natural abundance or distribution of species’” (ANWR). The report goes on more specifically, noting that the caribou population would face certain threats to the foraging and access to coastal regions on which it relies. There is no need to identify here the hundreds of species that thrive in the ANWR, but there also can be no true overstating of the unique environment that is so threatened, and it is ironic that the U.S. government has unfailingly extolled the natural wonders of the ANWR over the years. Every official report conducted by the U.S. Department of the Interior affirms that no greater variety or abundance of plant and animal life exists in the entire range of the circumpolar Arctic, just as it has been long known that the indigenous tribes of Alaska, chiefly the Gwich and Inupiat peoples, rely on this environment for their survival (Abate, Kronk 269). No matter from what direction the issue is examined, it becomes clear that the ANWR drilling agenda must vastly harm a region set aside as protected, and as an inevitably temporary means of meeting consumption demands at the cost of an unusually rich environment.

That societies would seek to procure as much energy fuel as possible is by no means unethical or irrational. With the ANWR issue, however, the scenario is utterly unacceptable. Here may be seen the society’s intent is to create immense manufacturing in a region it has itself designated as requiring protection; the ambition to procure fuel as so intense that it ignores the inherently temporary aspect of drilling in such an environment; that ambition in itself as so forceful that less harmful means of gaining oil are discarded; and a wholly unethical, and ecologically dangerous, disregard for hundreds of species and for native populations. Ultimately, drilling for oil in the ANWR is an unconscionable agenda, and one profoundly contrary to the nation’s professed ethics and priorities.

  • Abate, R. S., & Kronk, E. A. Climate Change and Indigenous Peoples: The Search for Legal Remedies. Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2013. Print.
  • Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). “Potential Impacts of Proposed Oil and Gas Development on the Arctic Refuge’s Coastal Plain: Historical Overview and Issues of Concern.” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 26 Feb. 2009. Web. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.htm
  • Corn, M. L. et al. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Background and Issues. Hauppauge: Nova Science, 2003. Print.
  • Johnson, L. A., Uradnik, K., & Hower, S. B. Battleground: Government and Politics. Santa

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