by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
August 1, 2008
OIL DRILLING IN THE ARCTIC: AN ECOLOGICAL DISASTER WAITING TO HAPPEN
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Are we so desperate for one last big fix of oil, that we're willing to destroy one of the world's last pristine and unspoiled regions?
The answer seems to be yes.
The U.S. Geological Survey released a report last week stating that the region inside the Arctic Circle contains about one-fifth of the world's undiscovered, recoverable oil.
The USGS report, the most comprehensive survey ever of energy resources in the Arctic, found that there is an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil - or about enough to meet current global demand for about three years.
It also found nearly 1.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas - equal to about one-third of the world's known gas reserves, or the equivalent of the total proven reserves of Russia.
All this is being eyed by the five nations that border the Arctic Circle - the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark (through its dependency, Greenland). But it will be a long time, if ever, before any of these nations gets a crack at these reserves.
That we can even have a discussion about drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic is because of global warming. For the first time in human history, there may be no ice at the North Pole this summer. The normally thick ice that formed over many years at the pole is gone, replaced by swaths of thinner ice that melt in the summer and freeze in the winter.
Arctic sea ice is disappearing rapidly, thanks to global warming, with the high latitudes of the Arctic warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Last year the fabled Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific along the top of Canada was navigable by conventional ships for the first time ever.
But even with the Arctic ice melting, it doesn't mean that it will be easier to get at all this oil. It's estimated that it would cost about $40 a barrel to extract oil from the Arctic Circle. This compares to $2 a barrel to pump oil out of the ground in Saudi Arabia and $5-$7 a barrel in Venezuela. It may be a couple of decades before Arctic oil ever reaches the market.
The pressure to drill is great, as is the political jockeying by the Arctic countries to claim these energy resources. The environmental cost of doing so doesn't seem to be a concern.
It goes without saying that the ecosystem within the Arctic Circle, already endangered, would be devastated by an all-out oil exploration effort and the massive industrial infrastructure that would be needed to find the oil, extract it and transport it.
The worst part is that all this is the very model of the vicious cycle. Global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is melting the Arctic's ice. The melting of that ice makes it possible to exploit the region's reserves of fossil fuels, which will contribute even more to warming of the Earth's temperature.
And, remember, we will be trashing the Arctic for, at best, three years worth of oil.
Given the current "drill, drill, drill" mindset of our political leaders, it's easier to keep the current system going than to make the effort to move to cleaner, greener energy. Why not, instead of doing the environmental equivalent of burning the furniture to heat the house, we focus on expanding our use of solar, wind, hydro and biomass energy?
By doing so, we can not only reverse global warming and clean up the environment, but our nation can create good jobs and break our dependency on imported oil.
Using this equation, you don't have to do an extensive cost-benefit analysis to see that the world would be better off leaving the Arctic's oil alone.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.