The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: A Great American Preserve under Attack

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The United States economy took a turn for the worse as the country fell into a deep recession by mid-2008 (“World Factbook” N/P). As this happened, the country scrambled for sufficient oil resources in an effort to save money from foreign imports. Oil companies turned to more remote areas of the country in hopes of great oil production. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, for example, is an area that conserves the American nature in its wild state, and with wide-open land, oil companies are intrigued by its possibilities for our country to produce our own oil.


It is obvious that there is controversy over which is more important: the environment and animals, or oil resources in America. Environmentalists stand strong for what they believe: that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is an area that works to protect the animals and environment. However, the opposing side sees that America needs help, and decreasing the demand we have for foreign oil will greatly help the United States. However, what will be next for America if we allow drilling in a protected area? Drilling in Yellowstone, the canyon lands, or the coastline? All of America’s natural treasures will disappear because of a small ‘want’ to decrease our dependence on foreign oil.


That is why drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge must not be permitted by the U.S. Congress, as it would affect one of the largest nature preserves in the world, worsen the health of our oceans, and lead to the extinction of endangered animal species, without providing a solution to America’s dependence on foreign oil.


The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the largest nature preserves in the world. And as one of the few remaining preserves for Arctic animals, its existence is now more important than ever. It provides vital protection for Arctic animals. Environmentalists propose that the wilderness area should not be opened up for drilling as the oil reserves are not large enough to justify drilling, plus, it would damage the refuge’s natural habitat. They also argue that oil exploration would destroy the refuge by introducing noise, visual impediments and other man-made blight (“Environmentally Friendly Oil Drilling” par. 7).


Furthermore, hundreds of thousands of people also agree with environmentalists as Congress received many calls, emails, and faxes from citizens who opposed drilling in the refuge. Wilderness Society President William H. Meadows said:

Surveys consistently show that Americans object to the idea of oil drilling in this sanctuary, but a handful of committee chairmen in Congress refuse to give up on development there. This is a perfect example of what the Antiquities Act was designed to deal with (Meadows par.3).

This viewpoint was directed to President Clinton while he was in office, as citizens were trying to convince him to use the Antiquities Act, but that plan was not put into action.


The Antiquities Act was approved in 1906 and states:

The President of the United States is hereby authorized, in his discretion, to declare by public proclamation historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the Government of the United States to be national monuments (“American Antiquities Act of 1906” par.2).


While citizens have voiced their opinions about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Congress has a voice, too. The power that Congress has can help save the refuge from being destroyed and turned into nothing more than an oil operation. If drilling were to begin, it would take up a good size of the refuge land, plus enter an environment that had been restricted to protect the Arctic animals.


Though we’re concerned about protecting a great preserve, even more important is the earth’s environment. With a high risk of oil spills, endangerment to our oceans and wildlife seems quite likely.


Every year, about 706 million gallons of oil enter our oceans through different ways. Some oil pollution comes from improper disposal of oil waste, deck run-off, or from leaking tanks and pipes (“Oil Spills: Impact on the Ocean” N/P). More specifically, from the National Resources Defense Council, there is at least one oil spill per day either in the oil fields or at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. From 1996 to 2004, there were 4,530 spills of more than 1.9 million gallons of diesel fuel and other oil materials (“Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” par. 4). Additionally, serious spills can be caused from accidents within the transportation ships themselves. Though not very common, when this does occur, it is usually a very large and serious spill.


The largest accidental oil spill happened in 1991 when 240 million gallons of oil were put into the Persian Gulf. And unfortunately, a major oil spill has already taken place off of the Alaskan coast. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound, and ranks fifty-third on the list of top oil spills (“Oil Spills: Impact on the Ocean” N/P).


Once oil spills take place, it’s hard for the oil to decompose, especially oil that contains volatile organic compounds (“Oil Spills: Impact on the Ocean” N/P). Volatile organic compounds are very strong and harmful chemicals emitted from solids and liquids (“Volatile Organic Compounds” par. 1). This type of oil is denser and has a hard time breaking up its particles in the ocean. As the oil reaches the shoreline, it starts the erosion process and contaminates the land. Because of the cold climate in the Arctic, environmental damage from oil spills is more severe and lasts longer than in more temperate climates. Even after multiple decades, some vegetation has still not recovered from past diesel spills (“Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” par. 4).


Additionally, oil is very harmful to wildlife as it can have toxic effects on the animals from exposure or ingestion, injuries from being around the oil, and damage to their reproductive systems and behaviors (“Oil Spills: Impact on the Ocean” N/P). Also, some Arctic animals are very sensitive to air pollution. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 70,000 tons of nitrogen oxides were released into the air from oil operations on Alaska’s North Slope (“Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” par. 5). These effects can drastically change a species and lead to extinction (“Oil Spills: Impact on the Ocean” N/P).


The world is currently facing the largest wave of plant and animal extinctions since the termination of dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Scientists predict that over half of all species may be lost during the 21st century –a fact that will slow down the modernization of the world (Cooper par. 1). As environmentalists take on the task of convincing the government to preserve biodiversity, Congress is not compelled to put the Endangered Species Act into play –an act that provides conservation to endangered and threatened animals and the ecosystems they depend on, which would help save the ANWR’s animals from extinction (“Endangered Species Act” par. 1).


In the mid-1970’s, only 5,000 caribou traveled to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But over the years, that number has dramatically grown to 200,000 caribou herds traveling here each winter for more suitable living conditions (Whitten par. 2). This demonstrates that caribou were able to come out of endangerment because of the availability of the refuge.


But it’s not just the caribou that depend on the refuge. Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, stated:

The Arctic Refuge is the country's most important onshore denning habitat for polar bears – and over the past year we have seen numerous disturbing stories of polar bears dying. (“Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Endangered Species” par. 3)


Additionally, the 1.5 million acres of land where oil drilling is proposed, is the site of a significant number of polar bear dens whose population has dwindled down to nearly nothing as seen in recent counts (“Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Endangered Species” par. 3).


The cost of oil production in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is about more than money. Quantitatively, money would be lost from the repair of facilities, loss of oil, and cleaning up spills. On the other hand, we would lose a pristine habitat as well as wildlife from the effects of exposure to the oil pollution (“Oil Spills: Impact on the Ocean” N/P).


Environmentalists say that investing in more renewable fuels and greater energy-efficiency will do more to help our economy than drilling for oil in preserved areas (Weeks N/P). Deputy Director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy said:

There is really nothing that can be done to change the fundamental geophysics of oil production in North America, and study after study has shown that we can clearly increase fuel economy by 30 to 50 percent, cost-effectively, within several decades without costing American jobs (Weeks N/P).


Conclusively, drilling in the ANWR would not be significant enough for reason. Dependence on foreign oil would only increase by 0.6%, plus the oil fields under the refuge amount to only ten billion barrels of oil–equivalent to only two years of U.S. consumption (Kotchen N/P).


As many U.S. citizens oppose drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there are still those that believe the country would greatly benefit from the oil production in this pristine refuge.


Many Alaskans believe that since the land is located near them, the decision is up to them to decide what happens to it. And as Karl Francis, Economic and Political Advisor to Native North Americans, said in defense of the tribes:

Has anyone noticed that the only real Native people of this place are the Kaktovikmiut, who actually live on and use these homelands as they have for thousands of years and that title to their lands was taken from them and then paid for by a reneged promise that they could develop some small part as they wished? (Francis N/P).


While there are many Alaskan tribes who are located near the area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, it is a piece of American land that is protected by the park service and government. It’s up to the country, as a whole, to decide what happens to the area.


Additionally, they believe drilling for oil is the only solution to help lift the United States out of a recession and bring them to better terms with foreign investors. In an article by Walter Hickel, it was stated that:

This will help the U.S. energy-wise and security-wise. As the largest oil-consuming nation, it will make us more credible in terms of the global environment. And it will give us some breathing room as we dedicate our creativity and resources to develop alternative energy sources—an absolute must for the next generation (Hickel par. 8).


There are ways to get better and more stable energy resources in an environmentally friendly way. Karen Wayland, the legislative director at Natural Resources Defense Council, says:

Increasing America's energy security doesn't require selling off our natural heritage and letting oil companies despoil our last best places. Using better technology in our cars and trucks -- so they go farther on a gallon of gas -- would save more than 10 times the amount of oil in the refuge, and save consumers billions of dollars at the pump (“Arctic National Wildlife Refuge” par. 9).


Though many people support drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, there are just as many, if not more, supporters of a friendly way of solving problems for the environment and animals. I believe it is highly unnecessary to search for oil fields in Alaska, as there are other, less expensive, approaches to decreasing our dependence on foreign oil. It is not worth it to end the lives of endangered animals when they have a chance to recover with the protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The environment is also very important as it allows us, citizens of the United States, to live in an overall healthy environment, and give the animals and our oceans the health they need.


It is important that Congress not allow the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to be a place for oil companies to freely search for resources, as it will permanently danger the last Arctic refuge in the United States, disturb a sanctuary for wildlife that allows them to come out of endangerment, and not provide sufficient resources to greatly help the American economy with the dependence on foreign oil. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge plays a very important role in Arctic wildlife lives, and it is a valuable remembrance to the natural history of the American wilderness. Also, oil is very harmful to both the oceans and animals as it contains toxins that could either kill or endanger an ecosystem. These animals are critically endangered, and it’s not worth ending their lives and species in an effort to just get a little oil. And drilling in the ANWR alone will not provide a substantial amount of oil in order to decrease our demand for foreign oil. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a part of America’s natural history that should remain as a protected area for the common good and enjoyed by all people.


Works Cited:

"American Antiquities Act of 1906." National Park Service. Web. 22 Nov. 2009.

"Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." Natural Resources Defense Council. Web. 21 Nov. 2009.

"Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Endangered Species." Defenders of Wildlife. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.

Cooper, M. H. “Mass extinction.” CQ Researcher. CQ Researcher Online. Web. 12 Nov. 2009.

"Endangered Species Act." Office of Protected Resources. Web. 21 Nov. 2009.

“Environmentally Friendly Oil Drilling.” Issues and Controversies On File. Web. 18 Nov. 2009

Francis, Karl. "Quotes about the ANWR." ANWR. Web. 19 Nov. 2009.

Hickel, Walter. "Oil Drilling Should Be Allowed in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." Opposing Viewpoints: Oil. Ed. Andrea C. Nakaya. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Web. 8 Nov. 2009

Kotchen, Matthew , and Nicholas Burger. "Oil and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." Resources for the Future Ed. Ian Parry. Web. 21 Nov. 2009

Markey, Edward J. "The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Should Remain Off-Limits to Oil Drilling." At Issue: Foreign Oil Dependence. Ed. James Haley. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Web. 6 Nov. 2009

Meadows, William. “A Year 2000 Chance to Protect Some Natural Treasures.” Wilderness Societies Quarterly Newsletter. Academic Search Complete. EBSCOhost. Web. 15 Nov. 2009.

Muhawi, Daniela. "The Government Must Not Allow Drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge." Current Controversies: Conserving the Environment. Ed. John Woodward and Jennifer Skancke. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Web. 4 Nov. 2009

National Resources Defense Council. “The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Should Be Conserved.” Opposing Viewpoints: Conserving the Environment. Ed. Douglas Dupler. Detroit. Greenhaven Press, 2006. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Web. 6 Nov. 2009.

"Oil Spills: Impact on the Ocean." Water Encyclopedia: Issues and Science. Web. 22 Nov. 2009.

"Volatile Organic Compounds." U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 21 Nov. 2009.

Weeks, J. “Domestic energy development.” CQ Researcher. Web. 13 Nov. 2009.

Whitten, Kenneth. "Drilling in the ANWR Would Likely Endanger Caribou Herds." At Issue: Should Drilling Be Permitted in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?. Ed. David M. Haugen. Detroit:Greenhaven Press, 2008. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Web. 10 Nov. 2009.

"The World Factbook." Central Intelligence Agency. Web. 21 Nov. 2009.





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