The effects of oil drilling in Alaska are far-fetched and go beyond the industrialization that has generated additional manpower movement to the region. The processes that are a part of these activities have generated an imbalance in the unique ecosystem.
Alaska, in the United States of America, is the largest state area-wise, and also the least populated. It is flanked by Canada, the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and Russia, further west across the Bering Strait. It was purchased from Russia on March 30, 1867. The price paid for this landmass was USD 7.2 million. It has seen numerous administrative changes, and finally became an organized territory in 1912.
It was recognized as the 49th state of the U.S. in 1959. The name means ‘mainland’ or ‘great land’. The economy of the territory is dominated by the oil and gas industry. More than 80% state revenues are earned from the extraction of petroleum. Besides this, other revenue options include fishing, agriculture, and rearing livestock. Most of inland employment is generated from the government offices and offices involved either directly or indirectly with natural resource extraction.
The allied industries such as shipping, transportation of oil and natural gas and military bases offer people a source of income. These activities are the significant components of the economy. However, they have a negative side too, and some of the effects of oil drilling in Alaska are summarized below.
Reasons for Oil Drilling
Alaska is an inland and offshore state. It is also rich in energy reserve. The North Slope and Cook Inlet basins and Prudhoe Bay are full of crude oil deposits. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline brings to the surface more than 2 million barrels of oil each day! Alternately, the coal deposits supply the nation with bituminous, lignite, and sub-bituminous coal basins. This region does not only offer very high hydroelectric power potential, but also equally dynamic generation of wind energy and geothermal energy. However, the effects of these activities and extensive industrialization within this otherwise serene and unpolluted region have taken a toll on resource and quality of life.
The pros that support this activity in this state include:
- Generation of huge amounts of hydroelectric, geothermal, and wind energy resources for the whole nation.
- Extraction of huge quantities of crude natural oil and gas, for the entire nation as well as surplus for export.
- Extraction of huge amounts of coal, a major industrial requirement.
- Promotion of employment opportunities that come up with drilling and related industries.
- Promotion of allied industries like shipping and transportation and subsequent increase in access to the region.
There are a number of cons that are easily recognized. They include:
- Extensive pollution of the inland areas, otherwise known for scenic beauty, due to drilling processes that generate waste material and oil spills.
- Pollution of transportation, inland as well as along the coast. This is mainly due to leakages, other than the established sites.
- Gradual increase in the population due to the employment opportunities generated.
- Gradual damage to the natural ecosystem, wildlife and terrain, arising out of overuse of available resources.
- Gradual decline of dedicated eco-tourism revenue and increase in business propositions.
- The political controversy about whether or not to continue with the extensive drilling has been a part of Democrat and Republican debates and a point of contention through election cycles.
- The deterioration of wilderness in the face of revenue-driven management of oil and gas exploitation has encroached upon the natural calving ground of Porcupine caribou.
- The screening of ‘frozen’ federal lands, hundreds of millions of wilderness acres, commercial activity, and filibusters have been challenged and revised time and time again. This has made it mandatory for the coastal plain area to be consistently evaluated by geological and seismic exploration.
- The native groups, the Aleuts, the Eskimos, and the Tlingits, feel threatened by the sudden burst of activity in the region and the visibly disturbed ecological system.
- A much required readdress of intent has been initiated to support wildlife and the wilderness area. The main aim is to protect the habitat and animal and bird migration routes for dedicated wildlife conservation.