Drilling Ourselves Deeper
Author Peter Canby, who is also head of the New Yorker's vaunted fact checking department, weighs in on the Arctic drilling question in the November 17 edition of the New York Review of Books. Canby contrasts the Clinton/Babbitt approach to balancing energy and conservation in the Arctic to the "drill it all" policy of the Bush/Norton camp by looking not at the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) but at the neighboring National Petroleum Reserve Alaska (NPR-A), which, after ANWR, may be the largest onshore oil deposit on federal land.
As a refresher, Clinton's Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, brokered a deal to set aside some 800,000 acres surrounding the super-rich Teshekpuk Lake in the NPR-A, while leaving the rest open to oil and gas exploration. (The idea being that those 800,000 acres were the biological wellspring of the region and thus deserved "maximum protection.") Not satisfied with a mere 87 percent of the NPR-A, the Bush administration has since announced its intentions to scotch the conservation area altogether -- maximum protection be damned.
What does any of this have to do with the Arctic Wildlife Refuge? As Canby writes,
The future of the National Petroleum Reserve is currently tied up in lawsuits, but the prospect of the entire twenty-three and a half million acres being leased to oil companies is deeply troubling to environmentalists. The authors of Cumulative Environmental Effects of Oil and Gas Activities on Alaska's North Slope write that "if commercial discoveries extend to the vicinity of Barrow, the pipeline system would extend more than 250 miles from east to west, with spur lines twenty to fifty miles long trending north–south from the trunk lines." If the 1002 section of the wildlife refuge were also developed, a similar web of pipelines would extend a further one hundred miles east—thereby covering 350 miles of the North Slope coast, and turning what had not long before been a wilderness into something resembling a frozen version of northern New Jersey.Still, Canby stresses, even that specter misses the greater point, which is simply that we are running out of oil. Indeed, we have already reached the end of cheap, easy oil. And with global warming threatening the very fabric of the Arctic, it seems rather clear that we will not drill our way free of the current energy crisis. To the contrary, we are only drilling ourselves deeper.