Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
(ANWR) has been in the news lately. The price of oil has risen
significantly in recent years; demand for oil has increased world wide
while supply has not followed suit. So the rise in price is not
really surprising, though the rate of the increase is steeper than
expected. U.S. Geological Survey studies describe significant oil
reserves ready for drilling in ANWR, but many members of congress have
refused to allow drilling because of environmental concerns.
It sounds all the world like a binary issue; true vs. false, black
vs. white, environment vs. big oil. But I don't accept that; I always
find that issues such as this are so often presented to the public in
a way that's overly abstracted and simplified to the point of
deception, and that if one looks beneath the surface and studies the
issues a little bit more, that things can get really interesting, and
all sorts of possibilities present themselves. So hold on tight,
there's some analysis coming...
The "ANWR 1002 Area"
According to the
Technically recoverable oil within the ANWR 1002 area (excluding
State and Native areas) is estimated to be between 4.3 and 11.8
billion barrels (95- and 5-percent probability range), with a mean
value of 7.7 billion barrels (table 1).
7.7 billion barrels of oil is very significant; that's more than 1/3
of the oil reserves in the US, and it's more than 1/2 the oil reserves
in all of Mexico. And if that wasn't enough, the oil is easlily
deliverable as it's located something like 40 miles east of the
Alaskan pipeline (!!!).
I think it's important to note that these oil reserves are not for all
of ANWR, just the
ANWR 1002 Area",
which is a section on the northern coast of Alaska, about 1.5 million
acres, roughly 30 by 75 miles. ANWR is about 19 million acres, so the
1002 Areas is about 8% of ANWR, or about 0.035% or 1/3000th of Alaska.
As a side note I'd like to point out that Alaska is huge. You can fit
two Texas's plus a New Mexico in the area occupied by Alaska. You can
fit four (four!) Californias into the area occupied by Alaska. The
population of Alaska is 680,000, about the same as the city of
Baltimore, with more than half of that in the Anchorage metropolitan
area. So the state is mostly wilderness.
A Simple Land Trade
I'd like to offer up my solution to the problem; a way to have both
environmental protection and drilling: a simple land trade.
Offer up 1.5 million acres of other Alaskan land, land without
significant oil reserves, or where the oil is too difficult to
retrieve, to be declared a wildlife preserve in trade for drilling in
Area 1002. I mean, it's not like the caribou need oil reserves to
survive. The US government already has the
National Petroleum Reserve - Alaska
nearby, 23.5 million acres of undisturbed land, and some of that could
be offered up. You could sweeten the deal by offering more land for
Area 1002, say a 20% enticement.
Or the ANWR borders could be extended downward a little bit to
compensate. It wouldn't take much, let's try a quick
back-of-the-envelope calculation: Looking at a map I see that ANWR has
border of about 400 miles within Alaska (that's intentionally not
including the Canadian border and the Beaufort Sea shoreline). The
ANWR 1002 Area's 1.5 million acres is equivalent to 2344 square miles,
so extending the (somewhat arbitrary) ANWR border by 6 miles should do
You might not even need the whole Area 1002 drilling, maybe only half
of it. Perhaps 750,000 acres, or 4% of ANWR.
I found this Ed Morrissey entry on Hot Air called
Could a land swap solve the ANWR standoff?
which notes this item in the
Fairbanks News Miner:
Sean Parnell, lieutenant governor and a Republican candidate for the
U.S. House of Representatives, proposed a land swap as a way of
opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
It's Not About the Price of Gasoline
I should point out that I'm not for drilling in Alaska because of
gasoline prices. I think a high gasoline price is fine. I wrote an
article some years back,
A Modest Proposal to Improve the National Energy Policy,
that proposed that high gas prices are the only practical way to
conserve oil, to encourage more efficient forms of transportation, and
to develop alternative energy sources. The basic idea is that there's
no incentive to develop an engine that runs on, say, orange juice when
orange juice is more expensive than gasoline. Also let's face it;
people getting huffy about gasoline prices is the height of arrogance,
especially considering that prices are so much higher in Europe. On
the other hand, the price has been going up a little faster than the
economy can safely handle, and unlike with my alternative tax
proposal, the oil revenues are currently going to some nasty places.
With a land trade, the environmentally concerned lose no land, they
might even gain some, we can increase the supply of oil significantly,
create more jobs, create more business income for domestic drilling
companies, more tax revenue from that, reduce the trade deficit,
reduce the dependence on foreign oil, reduce the oil profits to
countries that want to kill us. And at the same time, it would also
have an overall positive effect on the environment. That's pretty
Alaskan Oil Pipeline
handle the capacity? Easily. According to pipeline's web page, it is
currently running at about 1/3 capacity. That's a shame it's so
underutilized, the pipeline is a remarkable engineering achievement.
Environmental Issues are Upside Down
The main concern over drilling is environmental, and I find this
especially intriguing. Yeah sure, any drilling is going to be bad for
the environment to some degree. But for the oil we use, what we don't
drill domestically we have to import. When we drill within the US we
do so with an overactive Enviornmental Protection Agency, and with a
huge number of environmental laws, regulations, and oversight, as well
as an army of lawyers ready to pounce in the event anything screws up.
When the equivalent amount of oil is drilled in the mideast, the
environmental impact is far greater. And then after the drilling is
done, more oil has to be burned shipping that oil around the planet,
with the attendant danger of oil spills, and then even more oil has to
be burned for the tanker's return trip. In comparisons to oil
tankers, delivering oil by pipeline is more efficient.
A ban on domestic drilling doesn't mean that the oil isn't pumped, it
means that the oil is pumped elsewhere, with a significantly nastier
environmental impact. So taking an actual world view, drilling
oil domestically will be much better for the global environment than
Even if we didn't need to import oil, hypothetically, it would could
still be a global environmental win to drill in Alaska and export the
oil, because the oil would be drilled under less environentally messy
conditions than in the middle east.
Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) was commenting on Congresswoman
Nancy Pelosi's (D-California) "I'm trying to save the planet" response
to attempts to lift the moratorium on offshore drilling, and echoed my
I'm also, y'know, amused by the speaker, amused is maybe not the
appropriate word, she says she's out to "save the planet". Well if
you're out to save the planet, I don't know how exporting production
from the United States to places like Nigeria is good for the planet.
A place where they have constant disruptions, low environmental
standards, spills all the time. Most of the production in the world
is not done in a country as environmentally sensitive as ours, so if
you have planetary concerns, and we're all in the same world here, you
don't do the environment any good by exporting American production
-- Senator Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky on the Dennis Miller
Radio Show, August 6 2008
Unfortunately there is also some nasty politics involved. Right now a
democrat congressman has little incentive to positively impact the
economy as they don't want the Bush administration to look good during
an important election year. If they can earn righteousness points by
associating themselves with a bogus no-compromise environmental stand
at the same time, there will be a strong inclination to vote against