By TOM HENRY
Article courtesy the TOLEDO BLADE
December 7, 2001
In both distance and culture, Faith Gemmill grew up in a
corner of America that is about as far away as anyone can
get from 21st century Toledo.
Raised in northern Alaska, above the Arctic Circle, she
is part of the Gwich’in Nation, an ancient group of 10,000
Native Americans who rely on porcupine caribou for 80 percent
of their diet. For generations, Gwich’ins have made clothes
from the animal’s hides and tools from its bones. Even today,
they claim a spiritual bond reminiscent of the connection
other Native Americans once had with buffalo, believing
their hearts are part caribou and that caribou hearts are
"In our creation stories, we believe we came from the caribou,"
Ms. Gemmill said. She hails from Vashraii K’oo, now known
as Arctic Village - part of the Arctic National Wildlife
The wildlife refuge, known as ANWR, has long been the focus
of a national debate over oil, but anxiety has risen since
the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
Nobody denies there is oil. As many as 10 billion barrels
could be feasibly recovered, but only if market conditions
are just right. Considering that America burns up more than
19 million barrels a day and that energy demands are on
the rise, though, the refuge might not have enough oil to
supply the country even for one year.
The debate is whether the benefits outweigh the risks -
and what kind of precedent would be set for other ecologically
sensitive regions, such as the Great Lakes.
"If they get permission to drill in ANWR, it’s open season
on any sensitive area. ANWR is just the tip of the iceberg,
so to speak," warned Tim Eder, spokesman for the National
Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes office in Ann Arbor.
President Bush recently signed into law a two-year moratorium
that Congress passed this year against expanded drilling
beneath the Great Lakes on the U.S. side.
But environmentalists know their fight to protect the world’s
largest source of fresh water is far from over. Earlier
this year, Vice President Dick Cheney endorsed Michigan
Gov. John Engler’s quest to issue more drilling leases for
natural gas beneath the lakes.
Mr. Bush’s view on ANWR is vastly different than his view
on the Great Lakes. He has made ANWR a focal point of his
national energy policy, saying it is a region where drilling
must occur to help reduce America’s ongoing reliance on
The House responded by making ANWR drilling part of the
energy bill it passed in August. The debate has moved to
the Senate, where U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski (R., Alaska)
continues to push an energy bill he introduced in February
that would include ANWR drilling. On Monday, the Senate
voted 94-1 to postpone a decision on ANWR until next year.
To Ms. Gemmill, ANWR is a tranquil, picturesque haven where
polar bears, grizzlies, moose, and wolves roam in the shadows
of Alaska’s majestic mountains and rivers. The region, which
includes coastal plains that environmentalists have dubbed
as "America’s Serengeti," also is home to large, shaggy
beasts known as musk oxen as well as wolverine, arctic fox,
Dall sheep, wolves, and as many as 180 species of birds,
ranging from tiny plovers to loons to snow geese to peregrine
The focus is on the caribou herd. Estimated at 129,000 animals,
the herd migrates there to give birth and raise young each
Drilling there would mean "a way of life that’s going to
be lost," Ms. Gemmill said.
Not all Native Americans agree. The tiny village of Kaktovik
(pop. 250), which lies at the tip of ANWR, wants jobs that
would be created. Seventy-eight percent of those polled
support drilling in ANWR.
Ohioan Tom Stewart also sees ANWR quite differently than
the Gwich’ins. He views the northern section where drilling
would occur as a barren wasteland.
"There’s nothing beautiful about it. It’s a frozen tundra,"
Mr. Stewart said. As executive vice president of the Ohio
Oil and Gas Association, he is eager to expand domestic
drilling for oil and natural gas, regardless whether that
includes ecologically sensitive regions.
"It’s very simple. You’ve got to drill oil and gas where
oil and gas is located," he said.
He says drilling techniques are far better than they were
years ago, claiming no major spills - that is, none big
enough to shut down operations - have been documented on
the Ontario side of Lake Erie.
Canada has allowed drilling there since 1913, although the
bulk of activity didn’t start until the 1960s.
Ontario uses far more slant drills to get below the lakebed
than Michigan does with its land-based angle drills that
have been beneath Lakes Michigan and Huron since 1979. The
Ontario side of Lake Erie is the only place in the region
where offshore rigs are allowed in the water. Canada does
not allow drilling for oil from offshore rigs, only natural
gas, but - like Michigan - gets some oil on a limited basis
from its land-based angle drills.
Mr. Stewart said he doesn’t see a strong connection between
ANWR and the Great Lakes. ANWR’s attractiveness is steeped
in oil, whereas the Great Lakes have mostly natural gas.
The lakes don’t have enough oil to make drilling here profitable
for major oil companies, Mr. Stewart said.
Alaska’s North Slope has been coveted by oil companies for
decades, with some drilling west of Prudhoe Bay for years.
ANWR, a sprawling tract of 19 million acres, is about the
size of South Carolina. It is the only place along Alaska’s
northern shoreline where Congress prohibits drilling.
Federal protection dates to 1960, when former President
Dwight Eisenhower designated much of the northeast corner
as the Arctic Range. His interior secretary at the time,
Fred Seaton, called it "one of the world’s great wildlife
areas." Two decades later, just before leaving office, President
Jimmy Carter signed a bill that doubled the size of the
range, renamed it ANWR, and declared that no drilling should
be considered there. The exception was the 1002 Area, which
has technically been considered an area for additional study
The subject of countless drilling studies, the 1002 Area
encompasses 1.5 million acres, less than 8 percent of the
refuge. Mr. Murkowski claims 250,000 jobs could be created
and that the federal government could reap nearly $3 billion
in oil royalties, while limiting impact to as little as
2,000 acres along the shoreline. Activists hotly dispute
those economic forecasts and note the impact will spread
as access roads are built to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Commonly called the Alaska pipeline, the structure begins
near the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay and carries oil to
tankers at the Port of Valdez 800 miles to the south.
Security has been heightened in the aftermath of the Sept.
11 attacks, in part because an intoxicated gunman proved
on Oct. 4 how vulnerable the structure is to vandalism.
Authorities charged Daniel Carson Lewis, 37, for a spill
of 285,000 gallons of crude oil. They said he fired a shot
into the pipeline in the wilderness 75 miles north of Fairbanks,
an event which U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton described
Weeks later, six men from the Middle East were stopped while
driving in the Midwest with photographs of the Alaska pipeline.
Details are sketchy, but one report claims authorities also
found the men carrying photographs of a nuclear plant in
Florida, as well as box cutters. FBI officials reportedly
were angered to learn the Immigration and Naturalization
Service released the suspects after determining their passports
were valid and that the men had entered the United States
Some activists question the logic in having more oil flow
down the Alaska pipeline, given security concerns.
Mr. Stewart points to the downward spiral America has been
on for years, with its continued reliance on foreign oil.
Energy records show the U.S. has been getting more of its
oil from Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela in recent years,
but is still far from shaking itself from the Middle East’s
"There’s only one thing to fund terrorists and that’s the
oil we buy from those people," Mr. Stewart said.
The caribou herd that the Gwich’ins rely on appears headed
for tough times, whether or not ANWR is opening for drilling.
Canadian biologist Dan Rossell said the central Arctic herd
has been declining steadily for years, possibly a result
of global warming that has altered breeding conditions.
"So it’s really on the edge," he said, explaining that caribou
are moving further north and becoming more reliant on the
extreme northern habitat that ANWR provides.
In 1998, the U.S. Geological Survey released an $18 million
study of the refuge’s projected oil reserves. The report
concluded ANWR probably has from 16 billion to 42 billion
barrels of oil.
Ken Boyd, who stepped down as director of the Alaska DNR’s
oil and gas division in January, said he figures there are
roughly 10 billion barrels that are "recoverable," meaning
there is a lot of oil which isn’t feasible to extract. A
myth about oil is that it pools up beneath the Earth, waiting
to be drawn to the surface in a straw-like manner. On the
contrary, oil has to be extracted from rocks that hold it
like sponges. You never get it all, he said.
Ten billion barrels would be enough to roughly double the
current flow along the Alaska pipeline for about 25 years.
But even though the Alaska pipeline was built to reduce
America’s reliance on foreign oil, not all the oil it carries
has stayed in the United States.
In 1995, Congress allowed surplus oil from Alaska’s North
Slope to be exported to Japan and other overseas countries.
Senator Murkowski claims only 5 percent of the total was
exported over a four-year period, and that the need for
exporting any more of Alaska’s oil has been eliminated as
a result of recent oil company mergers.
Activists say the glut - regardless how temporary - speaks
volumes. How can President Bush claim opening ANWR to drilling
is a matter of national security if there was enough oil
produced in Alaska to be exported?
One reason is the cost of distribution.
Pam Miller, spokeswoman for an Anchorage group called Arctic
Connections, said a glut of oil on the West Coast will not
necessarily lower prices in the Midwest, because oil is
too expensive to ship this far.
She agreed ANWR drilling would set a national precedent
that could hurt the Great Lakes. "If the oil companies are
allowed to go into this special place, the other special
places will be next," Ms. Miller said.
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