Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR)
Oil Development in America's Arctic, Prudhoe Bay
Page 2: Oil Development in America's Arctic, Prudhoe Bay
Discovered in 1968, the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay are the largest in North America. Since 1977, over 12.8 billion barrels of oil have been pumped from 19 producing North Slope fields.1 Prior to drilling in 1972, the Interior Department filed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) of predicted impacts to the region. Gravel mines have extracted four times more gravel than listed in the EIS; five times more wells have been drilled; twice the road mileage has been constructed.2
Damage from the drilling has been considerable, profoundly affecting the land, the air, and the fauna of the region. The Prudhoe Bay fields and the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline have suffered an average of 400 spills annually on the North Slope since 1995, a total of 1.5 million gallons. A study of diesel spills in Alaska's arctic found that 28 years after an initial spill there were still substantial hydrocarbons in the soil and little vegetation recovery. The oil industry emits 56,247 tons of ozone depleting and acid rain causing oxides and nitrogen annually, more than twice the amount released by Washington D.C..3
The technicalities of measuring an oil development "footprint", or effects on the land, is at the heart of the current Arctic Refuge debate. As such, it is illustrative to examine the true extent of development in the Prudhoe Bay area.
We now know that, as caribou biologists Nellemann and Cameron have stated, "The extent of disturbance greatly exceeds the physical footprint of an oil-field complex."4 Studies by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game indicate that female caribou in contact with North Slope oil activities experience a decline in productivity.5 Caribou herds consistently demonstrate a 3–4 kilometer avoidance of pipelines, roads and other facilities.
These maps show the sprawl of the oil industry in Prudhoe Bay from 1968 to 2001. The 2001 map includes proposed wells, ice roads, and three new field expansions within the National Petroleum Reserve — Alaska, as well as the estimated limit of Prudhoe Bay development from the 1972 EIS. Though the footprint of oil development in Prudhoe Bay is estimated as 12,000 acres, it extends over more than 640,000 acres.
1 State of Alaska, Department of Natural Resources. "Historical and Projected Oil and Gas Consumption", Appendix A, p. 50 (1999).
2 Miller, Pamela A.. "The Impact of Oil Development on Prudhoe Bay." (Date unknown.) http://arcticcircle.uconn.edu/ANWR/arcticconnections.htm
3 Trustees for Alaska. "Oil in the Arctic: Impacts of Oil Development on Alaska's North Slope." (Date unknown.) www.trustees.org/
4 Nellemann, C., and R.D. Cameron. 1998. Cumulative impacts of an evolving oilfield complex on calving caribou. Can. J. Zool. 76:1425–1430.
5 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2001. Potential impacts of proposed oil and gas development on the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain: Historical overview and issues of concern. Web page of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Fairbanks, Alaska. 17 January 2001. http://arctic.fws.gov/issues1.htm