February 24, 2005


Take a Walk on the Wild Side (JIM DOHERTY , 2/24/05, NY Times)

Call it the grizzly test. Require all would-be developers to take it. If you want to drill for oil in the refuge, first you have to spend a couple of weeks roughing it there. No guns, no phones, no guides. Just you and the bears. Let them look into your heart. If they're reassured by what they see, you pass; if they feel threatened, well, according to Ave Thayer, there are worse ways to go.

Those who survive the grizzly test earn the right to submit their drilling proposals to Congress. But who knows? Perhaps a solitary stint in the refuge is enough to make even the most avaricious developers think twice. Once they've discovered for themselves how magnificent the refuge is; once they've watched caribou lope across the tundra, listened to wolves howl, beheld the mesmerizing effects of light and shadow on limestone mountains riddled with caves and turreted with hoodoos - once, in short, they understand why so many folks consider the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sacred ground, they might undergo a change of heart and decide to leave it the way it is. Which is to say, undisturbed.

Jonah Goldberg's trip there several years ago raised the question of whether it wouldn't doom ANWR if folks actually had to experience it:
Yes, the drilling would be in ANWR, but it wouldn't be where the beauty shots are. It's like doing an on-location report on New York City's urban blight and crime, but broadcasting from a café in Rockefeller Center. The coastal plain is, in fact, a vast tract of peat bog and mud puddles (sounds like a crime fighting duo: "Tune in this fall to see Pete Bog and his fast-talking streetwise sidekick Mudd Puddles, tackle evildoers. Tuesdays at 9.").

The coastal plain is a breeding ground for all sorts of awful flying critters. There are trillions of mosquitoes. There are these creatures called warble flies and nosebots, two bumblebee-like flies that cause the caribou unrelenting grief. I could swear I even saw Alan Dershowitz whiz past my ear.

Sure, it's possible to think this spot is beautiful. People find all sorts of things beautiful these days. In fact, a man sold a can of his own excrement at an auction for tens of thousands of dollars a few years back. If that's art, hell, then the coastal plain is Shangri-frickin'-La.

And, of course, both Alaskans and the native people who actually do live there support drilling.

Crude Reality: As the brutal battle over proposed drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge grinds on, a former oil worker returns to the North Slope in search of the truth about the pro-exploration argument. His conclusion? (Brace yourself.) The unthinkable is the right thing to do. (David Masiel, February 2004, Outside Magazine)

I have listened to the debate over Arctic drilling for 20 years, and I believe it is far from finished, that it will never be finished until oil is obsolete or the first production wells start pumping ANWR crude into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Election-year politics may have buried ANWR for now, but two points are clear: If reelected, George W. Bush will continue his pursuit of drilling in ANWR. And no matter who is elected, Alaskan lobbyists and politicians will never let this one go—there's simply too much at stake. "It's never decided," Senator Stevens has vowed several times, "until I win."

Meanwhile, both pro- and anti-drilling camps have dug their heels into the Arctic permafrost, each side deploying an array of facts and statistics, all of them "true," and most mutually exclusive. The Bush administration insists that, in the wake of 9/11, America's longtime goal of reversing dependence on foreign oil has become a necessity. The oil companies pledge that drilling can be done cleanly, thanks to new technologies like extended-reach drilling and man-made ice roads that melt every spring.

Environmentalists stress that any development is too much: The 1002 is home to the largest concentration of onshore polar bear dens in the world, the summer home to some 138 species of migratory birds, and the calving grounds of the 123,000-member Porcupine caribou herd. Even 2,000 acres of development, opponents argue, would create a maze of pipelines and service roads extending impacts a hundredfold. Moreover, they say, a defeat here will mortally wound the very idea of wilderness protection.

There's also the little matter of how much oil there is (no one really knows) and whether oil companies can ever be trusted as stewards (no one knows that, either). As if this weren't enough, native Alaskans themselves are divided: The Inupiat Eskimo of the North Slope largely favor drilling, but the Gwich'in Athabascans, to the south, don't.

I was divided myself. My family's ties to the oil business go back three generations. My grandfather was a tanker captain for Standard Oil, my father the president of Chevron Pipeline Company. My sister, brother-in-law, and cousin, not to mention half a dozen friends—oil people, all. On the North Slope, I'd gained intense respect for the people who work there, but I'd also seen the ways that the Arctic's harsh, remote conditions could drive crews to cut corners.

So, in 2002, I decided to drill into the issue—to drill into myself, frankly. My approach was admittedly personal. In my tiny way, I had helped bring drilling to ANWR, and I couldn't forget that bear as he escaped across the ice. I wondered, Is it possible to take care of the bear and still feed the machine?

After a journey that took me back to the Arctic for the first time in 13 years, and through dozens of interviews with policy analysts, native Alaskans, wildlife biologists, and congressional staff experts, I became convinced of only one thing: Both sides are far too entrenched to see the other side clearly.

It's time for a compromise, and as much as I can hear the cries of readers rising out of their chairs in choked protest, the reality of ANWR begs something new. Distasteful as it is, it's time to allow at least some drilling in the refuge. [...]

When old hands grumble about environmental standards, it's a good sign things are moving in the right direction. But anecdotal evidence is hardly proof. So I turned to my own contacts, including the CFO of one of the four largest oil companies in the world, who agreed to speak to me on condition of anonymity.

"We're the deep pockets," my friend told me. "Oil spills mean lost product plus cleanup costs. And ever since the Exxon Valdez, the bar has continually been raised. We're paying clean-up costs on operations from 20 years ago that were in full compliance of laws at the time. I tell my managers this all the time: Don't tell me you disposed of waste materials in some landfill and it's all according to EPA regulations, because I'm going to assume at some point we'll be required to go back and clean up—at greater costs. We want zero discharges."

In other words, economics ensures clean drilling. Another contact, the general manager of health, safety, and environment for the overseas branch of a major oil company, spelled it out for me: "The real reason for clean operations," he said, scribbling something on a piece of paper, "is this." He shoved the paper across the table. On it, he'd drawn a giant dollar sign.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 24, 2005 5:22 PM


Posted by: Ed Driscoll at February 24, 2005 5:30 PM

Odds are for any offshore drilling Doherty would want the oil workers to spend a week in a raft with no food or water before they could drill. But he would guess once they did that they would discover the magnificence of the ocean's waters and would leave it to the fish, whales and dolphins.

Posted by: John at February 24, 2005 6:06 PM

Can't you picture the New York reader of Doherty's story going all misty with this nature schmaltz?

Posted by: Luciferous at February 24, 2005 6:27 PM

I cannot talk politics w/one of my good friends. Last Feb she was listening to her 60 y.o. dad and went on a rant which included ANWR.

I told her the portion they want to drill in looked like a moonscape and she didn't know what the word meant. I also explained to her that the environazis don't want to drill because that would actually settle the question of whether or not to drill.

And then I googled and sent her something we can agree about - the basics, how big it actually was if it were a state, etc.

Posted by: Sandy P at February 24, 2005 6:53 PM

this article reminds me of that lefty nutjob that used to like camping in grizzly territory. thought he had some mystical conecttion with the bears. they ate him. i guess getting turned into bear scat is a kind of reincarnation.

Posted by: cjm at February 24, 2005 8:15 PM

May the struggle last forever. Ever dollar spent by the enviros fending off drilling in ANWR is a dollar not being spent delaying progress someplace where humans can actually live and prosper.

Posted by: curt at February 24, 2005 8:49 PM

Caribou don't lope and there ain't no wolves. Where is Doherty talking about? He hasn't seen either of those things he describes in ANWR. Grizzly are rare there too. I've spent better than 10 years engineering in Prudhoe Bay which is adjacent to ANWR. Take Jonahs description.

Posted by: Chingas at February 24, 2005 11:18 PM

just open up the ugly parts for homesteading; anything not claimed is open for drilling. that way either the lefties move up there (and die) or they shut the hell up and go back to whatever else they are protesting that week.

Posted by: cjm at February 24, 2005 11:21 PM

I am always amazed at the attachment that these people profess to a stretch of waste that they, and their children and their children's children, will never ever see. Sacred? Give me a break.

The only conclusion I can reach is that the rhetoric is about something else. Most likely the ongoing color war and their hatred of Bush=Hitler. Its about an elite that is losing power, that wants to retain power but is literally not willing to fight to do it. (No ROTC on Campus)

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 25, 2005 1:57 AM

I have been there. You would be hard pressed to see a vaster, emptier, expanse on this planet.

So vast, and so empty, that the oil companies couldn't screw ANWR up, even if they made it part of their corporate mission statements.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at February 25, 2005 7:25 AM

More than the mere fact of opposition to drilling in places like ANWR, the sheer unreality of the thinking involved to generate such opposition just gets to me. The Congress is full of scientific illiterates bloviating about caribou and elk in the Empty Quarter of Alaska, but when it comes to addressing the actual energy needs that make such drilling necessary and profitable, they are quiet as the proverbial church mice. It is as if they think that oil comes from cans, gasoline from pumps, electricity from wall outlets and heat from baseboards, and that is all there is to it.

If the economy is going to expand, it is going to need fuel of some kind, whether fossil fuels, nuclear energy or some other substitute as yet unheard of or unreliable or uneconomic in the extreme. There are two directions in which we can turn. We can either produce more fuels or we can increase the efficiency of the fuels we currently use. Since fuel is essential to the economy, we need to have a steady supply free from political threat. If we do not drill in ANWR and we do not increase the efficiency in what we now use, we need to buy more fuels from places like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Indonesia or Russia, IOW, a bunch of pretty unstable and unreliable places. Yet, not a peep is heard from our Solons on the Potomac about this. In fact when CAFE standards reducing gasoline usage came up, some of the brighter bulbs like Lyin Joe Lieberman voted against them, while at the same time opposing drilling in ANWR.

It just boggles the mind.

Posted by: Bart at February 26, 2005 10:54 AM