27 February, 2005

Oil in ANWR

Alt hippo* wants a lefty blogger campaign directed at the issue of ANWR. I'm game, partly because I find the issue compelling (see this), partly because I've been so impressed by the Social Security-focused discussion I've been watching Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution participate in, and partly because I just find oil resource issues fascinating.

Speaking of which, here is the USGS factsheet on ANWR. You should read it, because it's the report that everyone will be quoting from when they talk about how much oil is sitting in ANWR. Taking the region as a whole (i.e., including "native lands" and offshore sites, what's called the "1002 Area"), the 95% confidence figure for technically recoverable oil is 15 billion barrels of oil (bbo). The more realistic figure is the mean confidence estimate, which is 10 bbo. This is a substantial quantity of oil, to be sure. To put it in perspective, Sudan has estimated reserves of ca. 1 bbo. U.S. proven reserves (i.e., that which you are capable of getting out of the ground) are somewhere around 29 bbo. In other words, ANWR can potentially add half again as much to American proven reserves. Although estimates of production are at this point premature, they are of course being made. Gale Norton claims ANWR could produce up to 1.4 million barrels per day. On a good day, the U.S. consumes 20 million barrels of oil.

If the drilling is confined to the "undeformed area" (the region above the Marsh Creek anticline, a boggy and unattractive mess), about 7 bbo are recoverable. Compare to the caribou calving concentration map of former USGS scientist Ian Thomas (who was fired for posting them on his USGS site), and you will find the happy truth: caribou calving will be unaffected by drilling in undeformed areas.

Sounds great, right?

Here's a wrench in the works: the above numbers are from a USGS survey done in 1998. A previous assessment in 1987 found exactly the opposite results: 75% of reserves were believed to lie in the deformed area, where most of caribou calving occurs. While it's probably the case that the 1998 study is more reliable than the 1987 one, the point is: exploratory drilling, and probably actual wells, will not be confined to the undeformed area. If drilling is approved in ANWR exploration will cover the entire 1002 area. Makes sense - why trust a flimsy study when you have approval to do exploratory drilling wherever you want?

And it seems likely that drilling would inevitably entail driving some natives off their land for the 4 billion barrels of oil they're sitting on, but obviously that's not as important as caribou.

* Random fact of the day: phylogenetically, the hippo is the closest surviving land relative of whales and dolphins, followed by the cow. See this.

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