By Luca Peluzzi
The US Congress’s need of cash to offset the Republicans’ tax cuts could result in the first ever drilling of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), an undeveloped area located in the north-east Alaska coast that is free of human development and contamination.
Potential revenue from oil and gas drilling can stand above the conservation of the largest wildlife refuge in the United States, especially since that area is also described as “the largest unexplored, potentially productive geologic onshore basin in the United States”, according to a U.S. Energy Information Administration report in 2000.
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge consists of 19 million acres of pristine land, an area that is about four times the size of Wales. It has been created through a congressional act in 1980 and since then is home to polar bears and musk oxen, a nesting place for several hundred species of migratory birds from six continents and the calving ground for the porcupine caribou.
The absence of roads and the presence of fewer than 500 people living in and near the refuge prove how uncontaminated the area is. But only a portion of the ANWR is in danger: a 1.5-million-acre section that is known as “1002 are” and it’s thought to contain huge reserves of oil because of its proximity to Prudhoe Bay and other parts of the North Slope where large oil fields had been drilled for more than four decades.
A 1998 report by the United States Geological Survey evaluated that the 1002 area contains 4 to 12 billion barrels of recoverable oil, an assessment of great variability that confirms how difficult it is to precisely say how much oil could be extracted from the refuge.
In fact, Republicans have long demanded to at least allow seismic studies and drilling tests to verify the actual oil presence. But even if oil presence was confirmed there is no certainty that oil companies would rush to the refuge as current oil prices are set at about $50 a barrel, a great extent lower than they were earlier this decade. Shell retreated plans to drill for oil in Arctic waters, claiming costs were too high two years ago.
Environmental groups alerted that studying, albeit a relatively small area, of the land will result in tremendous havoc to the pure natural habitat, noting that an overestimation in oil presence in the refuge could potentially lead to the continued drilling of oil and an eventual temperate rise in the already global-warming affected state.
Opinions remained divergent amongst the locals concerning the matter, mainly because the state was built on the foundation of a strong oil industry back in the day and has created numerous job opportunities for more than one-third people living in Alaska. New revenues generated from the oil drilling could also help balance the $3 billion state deficit.
Yet, some are conscious that drilling the ANWR could provoke the loss of valuable food resources and cultural elements in a place where environmental pressures are always present in the public debate.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a whopping amount of USD $5 billion could potentially be generated within the next 10 years from the drilling of ANWR, rendering national budget problems to be the main culprit that hinders the preservation of one of the purest left region on our planet.