Drilling for oil in Alaska, specifically its North Slope region, continues to be a controversial topic amongst environmentalists, politicians and the oil industry. The North Slope is home to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field and the Naval Petroleum Reserve No. 4, the first oil-drilling site in the state. The government established the 12-million acre Reserve No. 4 in 1923 as a way to supply oil for ensuring national security. There are many arguments for and against the expansion of oil-drilling in Alaska.
Oil is a highly sought-after commodity.Despite advancements in "green," sustainable technology, oil continues to be used around the world for powering cars, trucks, planes, machinery and equipment, as well as for heating homes and buildings. As former House of Representatives member Bob Barr noted in 2008, lessening or lifting federal oil-drilling barriers on Alaskan lands would "provide Americans with a more secure source of energy over the short term" and help drive down high oil costs for consumers. In addition, the development of new oil-drilling sites would generate new employment opportunities for people in the area.
According to the MSNBC news network, a 2003 panel from the National Academy of Sciences said that oil-drilling in Alaska has had several sociological impacts, some positive and some negative. The positive impacts include improved health care and better schools for the people and children living in oil-drilling communities. The negative impacts include increased rates of alcoholism and diabetes amongst those same populations.
Drilling for oil in Alaska involves the release of high amounts of pollutants. This occurs during the developmental stages, when workers set up infrastructure like roads, derricks and crew habitations; during the actual drilling process, when workers use high-powered drills to bore through the earth; and during the transportation process, when companies ship oil off for distribution. The Valdez crisis most famously demonstrated how transporting oil out of Alaska can go awry, causing severe environmental impacts. In 1989, the Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground in Prince William Sound, spilling 10.9 million gallons of Prudhoe Bay crude oil into Alaska's coastal waters. According to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, apart from spills, oil-drilling in Alaska can also lead to the release of methane, nitrogen oxides and airborne particulate matter, which in turn can cause smog and acid rain.
Searching for oil in Alaska often involves releasing seismic pulses or explosions, which penetrate deep into the earth. As the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge notes, this type of seismic exploration can scare animals, such as caribou and polar bears, off of their natural migratory patterns, which can result in increased mortality rates amongst such animals and increased chances of human-animal contact. However, oil-drilling in Alaska has also been profitable for some animals, such as ravens, gulls and arctic foxes. These small scavengers thrive on the garbage in and around oilfields.