August 2, 2001
In August, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a proposal that would allow oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Sierra Club was quick to make its position clear on the issue and address specific aspects of the proposal.
A key issue in the debate over ANWR has been the scope of the proposed drilling and associated industrial activities. The Sierra Club noted that the oil industry claims that it only wants to exploit 2,000 acres of the refuge.
“The acreage for oil drilling won’t be the small, compact area that some members of Congress would have you believe,” said Melinda Pierce, the Sierra Club’s lead Arctic advocate in Washington. “In reality,” she continued, “the oil development would be a sprawling web of destruction stretching across hundreds of square miles of prime habitat for caribou, polar bear and migratory birds … Ambiguous language in this amendment leaves open many vexing questions, because the ultimate decisions about drilling will fall to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.”
In response to the proposal’s passage, sponsored by Rep. John Sununu (R-NH), the Sierra Club made the following observations:
- The proposal opens the entire 1.5 million acres to potential oil drilling.
- The full length of an oil pipeline wouldn’t count toward the 2,000 acres — only the base of the stanchions holding up the pipeline are considered.
- Because of ambiguous language, roads may not count toward the 2,000 acres, despite the need to build a network of permanent or ice roads connecting drilling wells, pumping stations, waste pits, gravel mines, pipelines, refineries and other industrial complexes.
- The oil industry claims 2,000 acres is the size of “an airport” — but that creates the false impression the acres would be contiguous.
- Instead, said the Sierra Club, the New Jersey Turnpike is a more honest example than an airport. The entire New Jersey Turnpike — 12 lanes wide for much of its 95-mile length — sits on just 1,700 acres. But under Rep. Sununu’s plan, roads may not count toward the 2,000 acres.
- Quoting the United States Geological Survey, the Sierra Club said oil under the coastal plain is not concentrated in one large reservoir such as at Prudhoe Bay, but is spread in numerous small deposits. Unlike the local concentration of oil at Prudhoe Bay, the complex just west of the Arctic Refuge sprawls across 1,000 square miles.
- ANWR contains 19 million acres, and it’s just the coastal plain that the oil industry wants to drill, and that biologists view as crucial wildlife habitat. But the coastal plain is 1.5 million acres, the size of Delaware.