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Petroleum exploration versus conservation of endangered species

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a classic example of the conflict between the search for more petroleum and the conservation of wildlife and endangered species. The refuge is in beautiful country. It was established in 1960 and expanded in 1980 to cover 19 million acres, larger than the combined area of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont (Figure 1.8, top). It is the primary breeding ground for 123,000 caribou of the Porcupine herd (named for the Porcupine River [Figure 1.8, bottom]) and is also a major wintering ground for this population.

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8 Map of Alaskan National Wildlife Refuges (top). Each dark area is a refuge. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the one discussed in this book, is listed as "Arctic" at the top right. Caribou within the refuge (bottom).

(Courtesy of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: http://arctic.fws.gov/caribou.htm. See also http://arctic.fws.gov/pdf/ispch.pdf)

The refuge also contains an estimated 10 billion barrels of oil. How much of this could be recovered is uncertain—conservative estimates are about 3 billion barrels. The possibility of drilling for oil in the refuge was remote until the 21st century; the George W. Bush administration pushed for it, arguing that it would help make the United States more energy-independent. But the United States has been using about 7.5 billion barrels of oil a year, so at best all the oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge would buy the U.S. less than a year's worth of oil. At the time of this writing, neither the Obama administration nor Congress has made any decisions about drilling there.

Here are some of the other ways that petroleum pollutes. Burning petroleum pollutes the air, creating health problems and damaging plants and wildlife. Among the primary petroleum-generated air pollutants are ozone, nitrogen oxides, and particulates. Also, pipelines and storage tanks leak. In 2001 a rifle bullet punctured the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, resulting in a small but nonetheless damaging spill. Among the good news is that although the 2002 Alaska earthquake ruptured the earth under the pipeline, the line stayed intact.

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