March 16, 2005

ANWR. Finally.

Long time readers will know that I live in the "House that Oil Built" owing to the fact that I've been working at one of Alaska's North Slope oil fields for nearly 6 years.

    The Senate today voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

    The Senate was sharply divided, however, voting 51-to-49 in favor in what is considered a major energy policy win for President Bush.

    In approving the measure, the Senate rejected an attempt by Democrats and GOP moderates to remove a refuge drilling provision from next year's budget. That move prevented opponents from using a filibuster -- a tactic that has blocked repeated past attempts to open the Alaska refuge to oil companies.

    Drilling supporters say the action clears the way for approving drilling in the refuge later this year.

This year's drilling season is already accounted for, they're not going to get rigs anywhere near ANWR this season. However, next November and December the ice roads are made, and the rigs can get going.
Ice roads are one of the most environmentally friendly ways to move around.

Here's a picture of an ice road.
Step 1. Wait 'til it's cold.
Step 2. Pour a lot water on the ground.
Step 3. Drive on it to get where you gotta go.
Step 4. Get done before it melts in the spring.
Step 5. Nothing left behind.

(photographer & location unknown)
The north slope looks like that between October and May.

And in the summer (not the same place as above)

There's a pipeline directly behind me and there's a drilling rig on horizon.

    The oil industry has sought for more than two decades to get access to what is believed to be billions of barrels of oil in the refuge's coastal plain in northeast Alaska.

    Proponents say the refuge could supply as much as 1 million barrels day at peak production.

Only one well has been drilled within ANWR. There might be a few dozen people in the country who know how that well produced. Most cited estimates are from USGS geologist's/geophysist's guess work. A million barrels per day is about 50% of today's North Slope production. The Trans Alaska Pipeline is capable of 4 million barrels a day. National consumption is roughly 20 million barrels per day, with half of that being domestically produced. Yes, we need to be more efficient in it's consumption.
    Environmentalists, however, have fought opening ANWR to oil development. They say an animal refuge is no place for drilling rigs. And they say drilling will harm calving caribou, polar bears and millions of migratory birds that use the coastal plain.

Never seen any!

Actually, this herd of caribou trapped me on a peninsula I was on last summer. I was doing some work at our Seawater Treatment Plant, and they decided to walk out there. It took me an hour of stop and go driving in order to get back to camp. You see, caribou have the right of way, and you can't honk. You just gotta wait.
And in the meantime they're relieving themselves all over the road and the tundra. So it's a pleasant drive!

So what happens if an exploration well doesn't hit?
Well, it looks like this.

All in all, radical environmentalist fears are largely unfounded. Yes, accidents do happen, but we're not actively negligent as some would have you believe. The oil producers have spill response teams, they train often; corrosion departments whose entire mandate is watching the pipes; automation systems dedicated solely to leak detection; as well as infrared flights to observe the pipelines. (I do that as a volunteer). There are also millions of dollars spent on environmental compliance issues, including reporting to both the EPA and the state. As part of my job, I maintain some of those reports, in addition to the efforts of the environmental departments.

A timeline for production?
The first year or two will be spent looking for oil. If they find enough to warrant a full scale facility, then there will be more drilling, as well as engineering and environmental studies. Figure on lawsuits too.

It's not an answer for today's oil and gas prices.
But it is an answer to being held hostage by foreign sources of oil. It's also a project with national involvement. People up there are mostly from Alaska, but there are many from the lower 48. A lot of Texans and Oklahomans, but also Washingtonians, Oregonians and Californians. And yes, even a few yanks like me.
We'll need to build the facilities, and drill the wells, and then operate them. Including newly hired and newly trained employees.
And it generates an enormous amount of revenue for both Alaska and the feds.

Posted by AlexC at March 16, 2005 8:41 PM

Thanks for the report, Alex. I was happy to see the Senate pass the ANWR drilling amendment.

It's funny, but the AP Photo that accompanied the story showed a herd of caribou and a picturesque mountain vista. I remembered Jonah Goldberg’s cover story to National Review last year. He described the place where drilling is proposed more as a barren mosquito-filled tundra.

Posted by: jk at March 17, 2005 9:58 AM

Mosquitoes? They looked like bats to me.
ANWR does have mountains in it, but like you said, the drilling is only going to be allowed on the plains. Near the ocean.
You've be propagandized.
Look at the pictures I posted. No mountains there. ;)

Posted by: AlexC at March 17, 2005 10:27 AM

Thanks for the report and the great photos Alex. I too am happy to see this ammendment pass. Yeah I get my Democratic Party card yanked on a regular basis, but I am an engineer too and realise that this can be done without creating an environmental disaster. I always hope the companies involved can do this with a protective eye on the environment, good shining examples of this could do wonders to speed up (and thus cost reduce) the next project that comes along.

Posted by: Silence Dogood at March 17, 2005 12:11 PM

BIRDS! Where are the BIRDS? Those evil oil rigs and pipelines and smelly white men have driven them all AWAY! OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!!

Sorry. Delayed Boulder Stress Syndrome.

Seriously though, excellent post. Thanks for the executive summary and interesting photos.

Posted by: johngalt at March 17, 2005 3:24 PM | What do you think? [4]