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Drilling Controversy of Jimmy Carter and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

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“Drilling in ANWR fails to lower energy prices today and sets no long term energy strategy for tomorrow.” – Dan Lipinski (an American politician and political scientist)

True or not? Should drilling be allowed in ANWR? This is the question that people have been debating on for decades, but what exactly is happening? First of all, what is ANWR? ANWR, which stands for Arctic National Wildlife Range, is in northeastern Alaska and occupies 19.3 million acres. This area of land, under the protection of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980, remains untouched and is home to many species like polar bears and porcupine caribou. Originally, in 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created an 8.9 million-acre wildlife range and twenty years later, President Jimmy Carter signed the ANILCA to expand the ANWR, “doubling the size of the former range and restricted development in areas that are clearly incompatible with oil exploration.” (Banerjee 2003) However, many politicians and businesses have been arguing to open up this pristine place for drilling. Why are they doing this for? Profit. These people are willing to destroy a magnificent wilderness to extract resources. Therefore, ANWR drilling should be prevented in every way possible due to the egregious effect it will have on the environment, animals living within the periphery, and its inhabitants.

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In the past, presidents have admired the splendor of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and done their best to preserve it. For example, when the Court is deciding to open up the refuge for resource extractions, President Clinton vetoed the act although it was passed by the House and Senate. Similarly, “President Obama pushed for further protection of the refuge via an expanded wilderness designation during his time in office.” (Creative 2017) These presidents are advocating for the protection of ANWR, but Donald Trump is reversing all the protections done by implementing his “America First Energy Plan.” Since America is running out of energy, it needs to find new ways or places to get resources so Trump is turning towards ANWR.

Trump’s America First Energy Plan will destroy the wilderness of ANWR and create unforeseeable effect to its surroundings. In September 2019, the Trump administration has finalized plans to allow drilling in a region of ANWR after the Bureau of Land Management released the final report on the environmental impact of the plan stating that “it would have a negligible environmental impact.” Now, the BLM is offering leases to oil companies on the 1002 area of ANWR. The companies will then have to determine whether the land they lease has the potential for resource extraction. Even though it would take years before companies could actually start drilling for oil, harm will be done to the environment because “companies will need to construct roads, conduct seismic testing, and bring in drills.” (Funes 2019) The resource industry will take place in the 1002 Area. When the ANILCA was passed, section 1002 of that act set aside 1.5 million acres in ANWR’s coastal plain, known as the “1002 Area.” This area of land has been subject to political controversy due to the amount of extractable oil it may have while considering the harm it will impose on the wildlife in the area.

Although the 1002 Area is only a small subsection of the ANWR, it is an important place that requires protection. This 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain is home to some of the most diverse populations of wildlife in the Arctic. Birds flying overhead while animals roams around the tundra creates the magnificent beauty of the wildlife range. “95 percent of the Arctic is opened to oil and gas. Leave the remaining five percent alone.” (Executive 2018) When drilling is allowed in ANWR, these animals will be forced to migrate to other places because their habitats will be destroyed. Polar bears, a threatened species, reside in this land, which is the most important land denning habitat for them. In winter, they would come to the shore to give birth and nurture their cubs. Similarly, the porcupine caribou would mass migrate to the same calving grounds in the ANWR where drilling is now legal. In addition, birds from all 50 states undergo seasonal migration to the ANWR. Therefore, the implementation of oil development could lead to the extinction of polar bears and have a huge impact on wildlife’s migration patterns. Furthermore, studies from the 1987 impact statement have concluded that the reduction and displacement of wildlife in the ANWR would lead to an overall reduction in the value of the place as “a pristine, natural laboratory.”

ANWR drilling will not only affect the animal, but it will also harm the environment by pollution. Drilling for oil releases wastewater containing chemicals into waterways, such as lakes and rivers, which contaminates drinking water sources. Marine animals will not have a safe and clean environment to live in, thus they’ll eventually die off. Moreover, burning fossil fuels by power plants generate toxic gases, especially greenhouse gases, and release it into the atmosphere. Melting sea and receding permafrost are already evidently seen in the refuge so drilling for oil will only aggravate climate change in the ANWR. Therefore, people living in the wildlife range will also not have clean water to use and clean air to breathe once drilling begins.

The indigenous people, known as the Gwich’in, living in the wildlife range will lose their food source, face environmental changes to their community, and even lose their cultural values. They named the coastal plain “Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit,” which translates to ‘The Sacred Place Where Life Begins’ because it is the birthing grounds for the porcupine caribou herd. “The Gwich’in have a cultural and spiritual connection to the Porcupine caribou herd.” (Executive 2018) They rely on caribou for their food source so if the caribou herd migrate to other places, their food source is lost. Also, there’s an annual carnival in April where men would gather for a caribou leg skinning contest. This shows how caribou plays a central role in the Gwich’in diet and culture. “The reason we’re here is for the caribou.” (Harball 2019)

Despite these environmental concerns, some people agree that the government should open up the refuge for drilling since it will generate income for the country. “The 1002 Area contains an estimated 10.4 barrels of oil and at peak production and it could supply up to 1.45 million barrels of oil per day.” (Executive 2018) If more oil is being produced, the Americans won’t realize that the problem is not with having not enough resources but with their excessive use of oil. It’ll only take a few more years for the resources in ANWR to run out too if people don’t stop their unsustainable way of using resources. Therefore, tapping into the resources in ANWR now will remove a potential reserve for the future. When oil companies are allowed to operate on the grounds of ANWR, it would create “tens of thousands of American jobs and … [bring] in between $150 billion and $296 billion.” (Executive 2018) However, the jobs it creates are only temporary because the business will stop functioning if the resources were to run out. Resource extraction in the ANWR is only a short-sighted plan for the future and will not help solve the problem of resource deficiency.

Although regulations will be placed on resource drilling, businesses won’t necessarily follow it because they want to make money from the easiest way possible. The drilling “will be done utilizing the highest environmental standards and safeguards to protect its land, waters, and wildlife,” said Alaska Gov. Micheal J. Dunleavy. (Creative 2017) Even with these standards and safeguards, businesses would still alter the environment in some other way since they would be drilling holes into the ground and releasing toxic byproducts to the surroundings. Some businesses would extract resources without following government regulations and pay the fine later because the fine they have to pay is only a small portion of the money that they’re getting from selling the resources.

Instead of the revenues from ANWR drilling, the Arctic Refuge can generate revenue through tourism and outdoor recreation. Annually, outdoor recreation amounts up to $887 million in consumer spending, which is a large portion of the US GDP. Thus, by keeping the Arctic National Wildlife Range pristine, it would attract tourists to come see the magnificent scenery of wildlife and even participate in outdoor recreational activities like hiking and camping. This will then bring in money for the country while minimizing ecosystem disruption.

Because of the above reasons, every individual should disagree with the drilling that will soon be implemented in ANWR. ANWR is the home of many species, just like how humans shouldn’t destroy the world they live in through climate change, humans shouldn’t destroy the habitats of the species living in ANWR. If more people show their oppositions against ANWR drilling, more pressure will be put on the businesses and they may not be able to operate like in the past how the government hasn’t succeeded in allowing resource extraction in ANWR because they’re faced with tremendous opposition by the American people, especially the Gwich’in. “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is where we must take a stand against Trump’s ignorance and greed.” (Executive 2018) Soon, Donald Trump’s presidency will also be coming to an end so the Americans should vote for a president who truly cares about the beauty and needs of his nation. Therefore, ANWR should not be developed for industry, but instead be kept untouched. 

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