Oil Drilling and Wilderness Don't Mix

In "Oil Industry's Biggest Obstacle to Drilling: Public Resistance" (Oct. 9), the Monitor should be commended for calling attention to the relentless pursuit by multinational oil corporations to drill in America's precious wilderness areas.

Unfortunately, the article falls into an industry trap, perpetuating the myth that America's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is the "grand prize in the North American energy sweepstakes." It is not.

Multinational oil corporations already have won the "grand prize" - access to 95 percent of Alaska's oil-rich lands. Much of these once-wild and pristine areas have been turned into a sprawling industrial complex of pipelines, drilling pads, and waste pits. Sadly, the American people will be the big losers if drilling is allowed in the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

This refuge is one of America's natural treasures. Drilling for oil would be as destructive and shortsighted as damming the Grand Canyon for hydroelectric power or tapping Old Faithful for geothermal energy.

That's why the American people overwhelmingly support protection of the coastal plain. Still, the refuge is a mere consolation prize for our future generations. Even if it is permanently protected, the vast majority of America's Arctic will remain forever changed by massive oil development.

Michael Carroll


Alaska Wilderness League

I thought that the oil industry only controlled the media up here in Alaska, but your recent article perhaps proves me a bit naive.

It is not just a "belief among many citizens that harvesting oil and natural gas from sensitive areas will somehow harm the environment," it is a fact that can be backed up with years of research by respected, nonbiased scientists. (As a small aside, I find the use of the word "harvest" interesting - as if an oil field is a small family farm with a renewable resource, which it is not. Try "drilling" or "pumping.")

Any honest person who has ever visited an oil field will tell you that they are harmful to the environment. I'll give you just three examples from an area I'm familiar with.

Oil operations on Alaska's North Slope annually emit roughly 43,000 tons of oxides of nitrogen, which contribute to smog and acid rain. This is more than twice the amount emitted annually by Washington, D.C.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation lists more than 60 contaminated sites associated with oil industry operations on the North Slope. These sites contain a variety of toxic materials, including acids, lead, pesticides, solvents, diesel fuel, caustics, corrosives, and petroleum hydrocarbons. These materials are seeping into and poisoning important wetland habitat for migrating waterfowl.

And finally, advocates of oil drilling cite the Central Arctic Caribou Herd, which inhabits the Prudhoe Bay area, as evidence that oil and wildlife can coexist. But during the early 1990s it became apparent to biologists from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that caribou inhabiting areas near the oil fields were not doing as well as members of the same herd that seldom encountered oil-related facilities. By 1995, the Central Arctic Caribou Herd had dropped to 18,000, from a late 1980s high of 23,000. The decline occurred entirely in the part of the herd that regularly frequents the oil fields. Caribou from the same herd that used areas away from the oil fields were holding steady or increasing slightly, according to Fish and Game Department biologists.

It is not surprising that the American Petroleum Institute believes, or at least wants us to believe, that they " work in a very environmentally sound way. [They] do not pollute the air, bother the streams or any of the animals." But just endlessly repeating this mantra will never make it true.

Dan Ritzman

Fairbanks, Alaska

Your letters are welcome. Letters for publication must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. All letters are subject to editing. Letters should be mailed to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, faxed to 617-450-2317, or e-mailed to oped@csps.com

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