Where There Were No Doors

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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Drill ANWR ASAP

Over at The Pseudo Magazine there's a short post entitled Alaskan Democracy - Whether Greenies Like Me Like it or Not. It explains that; whatever you or I may feel about drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR); the people of Alaska are in favour of it by a significant majority.

I find it a little ironic that such a monumentally flawed system for making environmental decisions (local democracy) should have arrived at exactly the right conclusion. Of course, just because I find it ironic doesn't mean I find it in the least bit surprising. In this case, the "right" decision just happens to also make sense from a short-term 'local greed' perspective.

That's the only time you can really count on democracy making the right decision... when 'right' equates with 'wealth-producing'.

I have nothing but respect for the environmental activists working to keep the oil companies out of ANWR. On 99% of issues, I would be standing on the same side of the barricades as them. But on this, I fear their energies are misplaced. Not because they have the wrong aims, but because they appear blind to the implications that a global peak in oil supply will have for this issue.

Here's a harrowing statement... and one I wish I could make personally to every environmental activist, because it needs to be understood quickly... "the Green Movement, whatever the hell it may be, is almost certainly at the peak of it's influence right now". Even as the results of our ecological negligence begin to bite us in the arse, so our concern for wider issues like "the environment" will be replaced by more immediate issues like "keeping warm".

If the choice were between "Drilling for oil in ANWR now" or "Drilling for oil in ANWR never", then it's a no-brainer. But that simply isn't the choice that's on offer. And anyone who claims it is, is either wrong or lying. The real choice is between "Drilling for oil in ANWR now" or "Drilling for oil in ANWR later". And anyone who understands the implication of peaking oil supply knows this to be true.

I don't know exactly when escalating oil prices will translate into supply disruptions in North America. But in conjunction with Natural Gas depletion, there will be a winter before very long when the Mayor of Chicago phones the White House and demands a National Emergency be declared because of the thousands of people dying of hypothermia in their homes on the South Side.

In that situation environmentalists won't merely be ignored, but actively demonised for "letting it get to this". And whatever concessions that Dubya and his Big Oily Chums may be willing to offer the Greens today won't be on offer tomorrow. If ANWR is to be drilled, then it's a project that should take maybe five years just to set up (surveys, building access, building pipelines, exploratory drilling, etc.) At least, that's how long if you were to do it halfway responsibly - with a team of independent environmental surveyors and engineers being consulted at every step of the way.

If we wait until the winter of 2012 when folks are freezing to death in Illinois, then we'll end up with a president under pressure to deliver Alaskan oil before next winter.

And fuck the moose.

The upshot is that I think those currently opposing drilling in ANWR should get behind a campaign for Clean Drilling in ANWR.

Yes, yes, I know that there's no such thing. I do know a little bit about the oil business, y'know? Enough to know that it can't be done cleanly. But I've also seen enough wells in enough places to know that it can be done cleaner. An oil operation in a country without decent environmental legislation is mind-bogglingly destructive. It creates a foul alien landscape, like something from your darkest nightmares, for as far as the eye can see. And it poisons the planet for many miles beyond each horizon.

Done properly however, the effects of it's toxic presence can be mitigated and contained to some extent. Emissions can be captured and - mixed with the liquid effluent - can be treated and then pumped to a less ecologically fragile location. Strict clean-up guidelines and systems can be put into place to handle the inevitable spills. It takes time to build those systems, and if time is of the essence at the start of the project they'll simply not be implemented.

So give the project the green light as soon as possible, but fight tooth and claw to ensure that the drilling is the cleanest ever done. Then, with a bit of wishful thinking, the people of the US might have voted in a sensible president by the time the ANWR oil starts flowing in early 2010. So the last of the continent's fossil fuels gets used in a peak oil crash mitigation program and not to fight a war with China.

10 Comments:

Blogger Robin said...

Stop it - you're scaring me!

22/3/05 21:18  
Blogger Jarndyce said...

Really good post, and a lot more thoughtful than my hurried effort that you linked into. All I would question is why you think local democracy is not the appropriate forum for making environmental decisions, if those decisions are likely to have the greatest impact on local people. Obviously a whole load of local democracies can't deal, in NIMBY fashion, with global issues like climate change and the oil supply peak that you write with so much insight on. But if Alaskans are so obviously in favour of drilling the ANWR, surely it ought to be primarily up to them to make that decision (with certain national reguatory oversight)?

J.

22/3/05 22:30  
Blogger merrick said...

"if Alaskans are so obviously in favour of drilling the ANWR, surely it ought to be primarily up to them to make that decision (with certain national reguatory oversight)?"

It depends on whether you think Alaskans own the ANWR. If they do, why should they be subject to national regulatory oversight at all?

Or maybe the ANWR is so precious and rare that it shouldn't be up to such a small group of people to decide its fate.

If I own my house, it doesn't give me the right to start leaving toxic garbage in the front yard and blasting out 20,000 watts of Slayer at 3 in the morning. Even though it's my land, I have to see it as part of my neighbourhood.

Furthermore, if my house is a particularly fine old building, it gets subjected to presegrvation orders that give me far less rights to alter it than ordinary houseowners have.

The ANWR is too ecologically important to only be subject to the will of its human residents.

23/3/05 19:12  
Blogger L said...

hmmm.... interesting post. Not sure that I agree with all your points though.

I definitely agree that local democracy is not the appropriate forum for major environmental decisions like this-- people often forget that what seems to be a "local" matter can frequently have far-ranging effects...

24/3/05 00:58  
Blogger Appalachian Gun Trash said...

Quote - "The ANWR is too ecologically important to only be subject to the will of its human residents."

Just what particular ecological importance do you speak of? What particular ecological impact will test drilling in a small area (2,000 acres out of 19,000,000) have on me, living in Kentucky or say, Angus Podgorny, living in Glasgow? What impact?

27/3/05 20:44  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim,

I came across your blog and added it to my favorites ... oops, Bookmarks, I using Firefox now. One question and a couple of comments.

First, where and in what capacity did you work in the oil industry?

I grew up in Venezuela, and as you point out, oilfields can be filthy. However, in my lifetime I saw a lot of improvements, in the oil-producing environment itself (mainly around Lake Maracaibo) and in the attitude of the managers. In the case of Venezuela, that change in attitude was more important than the laws, which were set in the capital, Caracas, which was far far away.

I also met people who have worked in onshore oil and gas fields, in Switzerland and Germany. Apparently you and I wouldn't even recognize those areas as hydrocarbon-producing, because of their elaborate precautions against pollution, including the visual kind.

Back to ANWR: I agree with your analysis, it's better to produce now instead of later. Another reason involves the Trans-Alaska pipeline. All these numbers are from memory, so they may be off, but I hope the point still makes sense.

The pipeline was built for the expected peak production from Alaska's northern fields, about 1 MMBPD. It is now carrying about half of that, and is declining. I don't know the maximum expected production rate from ANWR, but I believe it's somewhere around 250 MPBD, or 1/4 of the pipeline capacity. From another source, years ago, I learned that the pipeline has problems operating at a reduced capacity. For example, if the speed is too slow, the oil must be heated a great deal to prevent the viscosity from rising too high, which increases the energy required for pumping as well as the likelihood of breakdown and/or excess pressure, which would shut down the pipeline altogether, which in turn requires much more energy to restart.

From what I recall, the ideal timing would have been to start about 10 years ago, but it's still possible to obtain an operational advantage by producing from ANWR while there is still production from Prudhoe Bay and the North Slope.

I'm rather busy this week and don't have time to look up the numbers, but this should be easy to verify.

Again, I enjoy your blog and look forward to more.

Steven

28/3/05 18:26  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim Bliss.... interesting little bit you wrote. You speak with just as good of a forked tongue as the Representatives of Alaska. "Fight for Clean" oil producing areas???? Yea right! The oil that would be produce would more than likely be shipped elsewhere and probably will not reach one US citizens' SUV. Healy, AK has the richest coal and we ship most, to all of the coal, to South Korea. Interesting huh? We "greenies" are fighting for the future! It's just the money hungry oil companies... greed. We can produce better fuel with corn, hemp converted diesel engines. Put American farmers back into play. I agree with Robin's comment... STOP YOU ARE SCARING ME TOO.

5/8/05 23:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think this was an intersting point of view especially since there are so my tree-huggin hippies out there tryin to protect the ANWR.

11/11/05 18:23  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jim... I appreciate this post and your insight that we need to start work there now rather than waiting for a catastrophe when it will be too late. The guy who made the second post above seems to have missed the point. He seems to be living in the self-constructed greenie utopia of read-to-go hydrogen and biodiesel fuels that the US is only not using because Bush is protecting his oil buddies. A note for "Anonymous" above: There is no economically viable or mass-produceable biodiesel or hydrogen energy. There won't be for a couple decades. Until then, find a new argument. --Matt K

4/12/05 20:00  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, your post concerns me you say that "The real choice is between "Drilling for oil in ANWR now" or "Drilling for oil in ANWR later"." that is not true, we DO have an option of NOT drilling and that decision will not lead to people dying of hypothermia in 15 years IF we get smart about how we use our energy.

If America spent its time and energy in developing and putting to action ways of making a more sustainable society, then we would not have to even consider drilling the ANWR. Technology now has developed fuel efficient cars that can run up to 50 mpg, more efficient solar energy systems, and means of living in sustainable ways. If these were utilized by only a small percentage of Americans we would save way more oil than there is in the ANWR. Americans are wasteful, we basically throw away the energy we have, so does it make sense to produce more when we already abuse what we have.

Another thing you should understand is that if the ANWR is opened for oil production the oil drilled will not belong to the US it will be owned by the companies who produce it, the oil drilled in the ANWR will be in no way different from the oil drilled in the Middle East in the eyes of the oil companies. The oil will not go only to the US, it will also be exported to foreign countries like china as the oil that is drilled in Alaska now does. Neither you nor I will benefit from the oil drilled in the ANWR.

The cost of gas will only decrease by about a penny by the year 2025, so is it worth it to permantly alter and partially destroy the last great wilderness on earth for a six month supply of oil that will only drop gas prices by a penny?

Or is it a better choice to start taking action to develop better ways of living that ensure a cleaner more energy efficient future?

It is obvious that American is addicted to oil so why increase the supply?
You would give someone addicted to drugs more drugs, no, you would try to wean them off of them. America needs to stop being dependent on oil, we need to wean ourselves off of our addiction.

AMERICA NEEDS TO REALIZE THAT IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE A SLAVE TO THE OIL INDUSTRY.

So you can enjoy the smoggy air while the ice caps melt, but I am going to do something about it.

I'll be out hugging a tree.

19/10/06 17:49  

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