Impact: oil wells in your back yard

Following the defeat earlier this week of an attempt to block North Slope drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge a reader writes us to say that it may not be entirely without a plus side, suggesting that because of the remote location "no one will see the damage done" by the drilling. "It will mean cheaper gas for us all...create new jobs" and so, we were prompted to do a little research. This is what we found.

There are approximately 7,300 residents residing permanently in the North Slope Borough, they aren't called counties in Alaska. The largest town is Barrow, population 4500. The primary industries are oil field production, government and tourism - the supposition is that perhaps some of those tourists will see the "damage done."

A map of the area shows clearly that Barrow exits central to the already established National Petroleum Preserve (outlined in orange) and approximately 230 miles northwest of the Wildlife Reserve's western boundary (marked in yellow) which has been at the heart of the issue to date. The far smaller wilderness reserve has been set aside since its establishment under the Eisenhower Administration for the preservation of pristine wilderness and as necessary to maintain the fragile ecosystem that thrives there.

The area supports among other species countless bird populations, arctic fox, bear including of course the polar bear who traditionally inhabits the north slop as a denning ground.

Regarding the economics of the debate, A review of oil industry and government studies suggest that the amount of oil to be found in the area would fill less than 2% of our current requirement over the next 20 years, - less as demand rises - and won't even be available for 5 years. In his New York Times OpEd piece this morning Thomas Friedman, writes that the oil taken from these fields will, more likely than not, be sold to China to offset American debt which now approaches $200-billion. It seems certain that the only ones to profit from this will be a half dozen American oil companies who will barter and sell the rights to drill, among themselves.

Finally, as the old saying goes whatever we do to the environment, is OK as long as you can't see it from my house. Well, I don't know where you live but Alaska seems a lot closer now than it ever did. Who wins then?
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