Oil Drilling in the Arctic

It is entirely possible that oil production will effectively cease within our lifetime. When all the easily exploited oil wells dry up, where can we turn for our next fix? Estimates of remaining un-mined oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been grossly over-exaggerated, and oil fields in all exporting countries have entered a steady, fatal decline while international demand has, with the growth of Chinese markets, exploded. Our addiction to oil is like a junkie’s fatal attraction to heroin, and the world’s supply of our favorite drug is drying up. At some point, production costs will become prohibitively expensive and we’ll all be forced to trade in our Escalades and start driving our feet to work. I hate to exercise, so we should do everything we can to slow the inevitable.

A recurring controversy here in the United States revolves around the question, “should we mine the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska?” The debate crops up every time oil prices spike and to my mind seems more appealing every time it’s broached. The region is indisputably beautiful, a pristine wilderness populated by endangered species of wildlife living peacefully in unspoiled natural splendor. Unfortunately, the reserve is on top of one of the United States’ most easily exploitable oil reserves.

What I’m going to describe to you is going to sound like utopia: a world where the United States doesn’t have to depend on the international community to supply its ever-expanding oil addiction. In this imaginary world, we don’t need to tangle with Iraq or Iran or Saudi Arabia or Colombia or Kuwait or Libya or Nigeria because we have our own oil supply which is cheaper and more reliable than anything else anyone in the world can offer us. It’d be like growing your own weed.  The only cost is that we must utterly destroy the last pure thing in the world. As the Arctic Shelf breaks apart and melts away, new shipping routes and resources are becoming available. It has been estimated that roughly one-third of the world’s petroleum reserves lie beneath the Arctic ice. Whoever claims them controls the world economy. The spice must flow.

According to the laws established by the United Nations in 1982, any country has the right to claim up to 200 nautical miles as territory of seabed adjacent to a controlled shoreline. If that country can prove their continental shelf to extend further along the seabed, they are eligible to claim up to 350 additional nautical miles as sovereign territory. By rights, the United States could claim sovereign control over a substantial part of the Arctic shelf, except we never signed our acceptance of the Law of the Sea. In a world where might makes right, the United States Navy is large enough to combat (at a single time) those of every other country in the world combined. By rights, we could claim the entire Arctic Ocean and all the resources it protects.

Kuwait is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, per capita, because the Kuwaiti government knows how valuable its oil fields are and moved quickly to exploit them. If the United States government opened the Arctic Shelf to drilling, not only would we stop importing oil, we could become one of the largest producers on the global market. New industries would be created, the job market would expand, the GDP would explode, we could all buy stretch Hummers and drive to class every day. It’s only fair that the government control revenues from wells in the Alaskan Refuge, because they exist on park lands. If the federal government’s annual budget increases, doubtless subsidies higher for education will follow, and we can all pay off our student loans and buy more cool stuff.

What I would suggest is demonstrably monstrous. As the Deepwater Horizon oil spill last year proved, there is no effective strategy to combat ocean spillage, and the repercussions on ocean ecosystems are unfathomable. Still, oil spills occur every year, like death and taxes. Why bother trying to prevent the inevitable? Since we’ve all watched “Avatar,” we know it’s wrong to destroy native species for the resources they protect, but really, it’s for the greater good that the United States government move quickly to exploit all resources that would make its people strong.

Tristan Scholtz is a fourth-year literary journalism and comparative literature double major. He can be reached at tscholtz@uci.edu.