In every Conservative family, we have Liberal-leaning family members whom we love very much. It seems the hardest issue to confront with these dear ones is the environment.
How do you explain to your rock-repelling, trout fishing, river-rafting, brewmaster little brother, who is just the greatest ever, that the polar bears are really not in danger of extinction, and certainly not from drilling now! Or your very astute 80’s something Auntie who reads every major newspaper on her computer, works diligently to save “all God’s animals as well as His children” and on election day, serves the whole-day-long at the polling place in her district?
It’s just not something we can speak of, but you may be better skilled at confrontation than I, and so I offer up some good arguments and fine sources for those of you spirited enough to actually try to make difference within your family:
Contrary to the popular fiction, ANWR.org tells us that the caribou population
…in the Prudhoe Bay oil field has increased by over 900% and yet caribou in ANWR with no human contact other than Gwich’in Indian hunting have plummeted by over a third.
ANWR.org asks: Do the Caribou Really Care?
Are caribou affected by oil development on the North Slope? It would appear not, based on scientists’ observations. The Central Arctic Herd, which uses the area around Prudhoe Bay, has tripled in population since oil development started in the early 1970’s.
Please note that it is ANWR.org that did not capitalize the “C” in caribou. I am not being disrespectful.
ANWR.org explains the caribou conundrum:
The 1.5 million-acre tract accounts for just 8 percent of the 19 million-acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And rather than the calendar art of the last frontier, the land at issue is a flat, boggy, treeless place where temperatures can drop as low s 40 degrees below zero. The place, therefore, is virtually uninhabitable by animals most of the year.
Former U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, testified at Congress recently and got down to actual numbers:
The Central Arctic Herd is the caribou herd in the North Slope whose range includes the Prudhoe oilfields. Their numbers have increased from 5,000 in 1977, at the beginning of oil development, to 27,000 in 2000. Alaska Fish and Game has published the most recent census showing the population is now more than 31,000.
I’ve learned that all caribou are not just caribou. In the area of Alaska that we are concerned about, the Porcupine caribou differs from the Central Arctic Herd caribou. Some are concerned that the Porcupine species may not calve in the ANWR coastal plain, but according to Congressional testimony:
…a U.S. Geological Survey study found that under the most realistic scenario for developing the 1002 Area there would be a 95% chance of having no impact on calf survival.
Finally, it is also important to remember there are years where the Porcupine caribou herd does not use ANWR’s Coastal Plain at all for calving. In fact, in 2000, 2001, and 2002 that was the case.
Former Secretary Norton on polar bears:
We often see pictures of polar bears in appeals for funds to save the Arctic Refuge. One organization begins its plea with a statement that development “could force polar bears to abandon their maternity dens, which they dig in the snowdrifts, and leave their cubs to die.” This comes from a 1985 report of one polar bear leaving its den as a result of older seismic activity.
Norton referred to the North Slope development oil fields, which she says is “far more intense” than any potential Coastal Plain [ANWR]development, where
Polar bears have thrived since 1967. The NAS report found there have been no known cases where polar bears have been affected by oil spilled as a result of North Slope industrial activities. NAS sums up its polar bear discussion by stating there is evidence to support a finding that there have been no serious effects or accumulation of effects on polar bears.
Oil Spills are not something any of us take lightly. It’s an ugly thing. The land, fish and wildlife, residents and those working to clean-up the mess suffer from oil spills. As with everything, though, we should put it in perspective. This from the Anchorage Daily News about a year after the Prudhoe Bay spill in 2006:
…an upcoming state study shows that all kinds of spills, from crude to gasoline to tainted water, have occurred with regularity over the last decade on the remote wetlands of the Arctic tundra.
Wildlife in this area are still doing okay today. Environmental hazards are a reality for all us. In my area it’s chicken waste from Tyson foods, polluting the rivers, or so it’s report.
…state environmental officials and some scientists say there is scant evidence that spills have caused long-term damage.
“The immediate effects really look bad, but usually they disappear pretty quickly,” said Jay McKendrick, professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He advises oil companies on replanting techniques after a spill. “The long-term effects on the tundra are pretty minimal.”
Here’s the reality: the biggest “spill” in Prudhoe Bay was SEAWATER:
A large breach of seawater, which can kill slow-growing tundra plants, accounted for about half the reported amount spilled. The 994,400-gallon spill occurred in March 1997 on a gravel pad in the eastern section of Prudhoe Bay and did not cause lasting damage, officials said at the time.
Saltwater that had not been separated from the oil and gas mixture was second with 349,274 gallons spilled. Crude oil was third, with 103,397 gallons reported.
Of the 4,481 spills reported, 89 percent of them measured less than 99 gallons….In addition, there is little data on water quality before exploration and construction began at Prudhoe Bay in the late 1960s, making changes difficult to measure, Miller said.
Alaska has major infrastructure problems just like the rest of us, and the National Research Council says:
…damage to plants and animal populations from ever-expanding infrastructure is much more lasting and widespread. Of the 250 sites the state has labeled “contaminated” on the Slope, most are permanent installations such as roads, drilling rigs, pipelines, buildings and gravel pads.
“There are certain plant species up there that tend to have tolerance to oil so they [oil companies] come back and take care of the vegetation problem pretty quickly,” McKendrick said.
Lasting damage cannot be fully documented as yet, but Leslie Pearson of the Department of Environmental Conservation says”
“Based on spills reported, we haven’t really noted any lasting impacts to wildlife per se,”
Technology bringing clean and safe drilling: Secretary Gale Norton, in an op-ed for the New York Times says that oil exploration in the 21st century is learning to gain access to oil and gas reserves and protect their ecosystems at the same time:
In past decades, Arctic oil development involved huge amounts of equipment that had to be moved over gravel roads and laid upon large gravel pads. The machines that transported this equipment often scarred the land, especially in spring and summer.
American ingenuity has tackled this problem. Today, oil exploration in the Arctic occurs only in the frozen winter. Workers build roads and platforms of ice to protect the soil and vegetation. Trucks with huge tires called rolligons distribute load weights over large areas of snow to minimize the impact on the tundra below.
Meanwhile, innovations in platform development and directional drilling mean that we need fewer and smaller pads to tap into oil and gas reserves. From a single platform, we can explore an underground area nearly the size of the District of Columbia.
Likewise, satellite infrared imaging helps energy companies to avoid key wildlife habitat and environmentally sensitive areas while 3-D seismic data imaging improves the chances of drilling a successful well by 50 percent, meaning fewer wells.
The bottom line about drilling and leaving a small footprint:
When Prudhoe Bay was developed in the 1970’s, about 2 % of the surface area over the field, or 5,000 acres, was covered by gravel for roads and drilling and production facility sites. If Prudhoe Bay were developed today, using lessons learned since the 1960’s, gravel would cover less than 2,000 acres, a 60 % reduction.
Advances in directional, or extended-reach, drilling now allow producing companies to reach a reservoir three miles from the surface location. Soon “extended reach” wells out to four miles will be possible on the North Slope. When Prudhoe Bay was first developed, wells could reach out only one and a half miles.
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Tracked to: Woman Honor Thyself