Arctic Voices

Arctic Gardens Ebook - Postscript

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Postscript: President Obama releases his offshore drilling plans for the next ten years

On March 31, 2010, just before Arctic Gardens went to press, President Obama released his plan for U.S. offshore drilling for the next 10 years. He announced that areas off the East Coast of the US and off the north coast of Alaska that are not yet available for petroleum exploration and drilling would be studied to determine such activity’s effects on tourism, the environment and national security. The Beaufort and the Chukchi Seas constitute an area of 130,000,000 acres, which is larger than the landmass of California. Leases in 2005, 2007, and 2008 that constitute 2,800,000 acres have already been let, and exploration may begin there soon. The median estimate of undiscovered, economically recoverable oil in the entire 130,000,000 acres is about 10.6 billion barrels, or about 16 months of U.S. crude oil needs if that were the only supply.

The State of Alaska supports offshore drilling activity. It is particularly interested in production in the Arctic that could augment the declining throughput in the pipeline from Prudhoe Bay, the revenues from which pay for much of the state’s budget and an annual citizen allocation.

For the Beaufort Sea, tracts leased in two recent sales in 2005 and 2007 have not yet been explored partly due to litigation, and that exploration may be begun as early as this summer if concerns of the Inupiat Eskimo whalers can be satisfactorily resolved. The areas open for exploration are in the vicinity of the path of the semi-annual bowhead whale migration, and the concern is that petroleum exploration and drilling would change the whale’s path so that the whaling boats of the Inupiat could not reach them. This would deprive these Native Americans of their most important food resource over the last several thousand years. The Department of Interior says that results from anticipated exploration and ongoing research into oil-spill clean-up capability in icy waters will inform future decisions to proceed. As yet, the Obama Administration has not publically expressed concern about the potential threat of large changes to the whale migration patterns. Other areas in the Beaufort will be considered for exploitation in the 2012-2017 time period.

The Minerals Management Service estimate of undiscovered, economically recover- able resources for the Beaufort Sea Program Area is 2-7 billion barrels (Bbbl) of oil and 3-20 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas. Information acquired from exploration activities would serve to reduce the level of uncertainty in resource estimates for both leased and un-leased areas.

The Beaufort Sea on the east is divided from the Chukchi Sea by a northerly drawn line from Point Barrow, Alaska. Tracts leased in the Chukchi Sea in 2008 have not yet been explored due to ongoing litigation. Like the Beaufort, other areas of the Chukchi Sea will be considered for leasing in the 2012-2017 time period. The Minerals Management Service estimate of undiscovered, economically recoverable resources for the Chukchi Sea Program Area ranges widely from 0.15-12 Bbbl of oil and 0.5-54 tcf of natural gas.

As the various media and official government releases are read, one cannot but be impressed with the lack of any mention of the potential for the off shore petroleum exploitation to adversely affect the long-time subsistence practices of the Inupiat Eskimos. A desire to minimize impacts to tourism, the environment and national security are the concern, to the exclusion of an impact that has the potential to destroy an ancient culture that has managed to integrate itself into the modern world through technology, but without losing its identity as a people. Hopefully, this form of nothing less than cultural genocide will be stopped before we sacrifice another Native American culture for our culture’s addiction to money and petroleum.

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