3 months, 30 years
- Maybe I'm just feeling old today. Thirty years does
not seem like a very long period of time.
Drilling Could Hurt Wildlife, Federal Study of Arctic Says
March 30, 2002
By SAM HOWE VERHOVEK
SEATTLE, March 29 - Undercutting the Bush administration's
case for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge in Alaska, a federal study released today said that
such drilling could harm caribou, snow geese, musk oxen and
The report, by the United States Geological Survey, a
branch of the Interior Department, comes just a week and a
half before the Senate is scheduled to begin debating the
White House's plan to allow drilling in the 19-million-acre
refuge. Drilling was approved in an energy plan backed by
the House, but opponents say they have the votes in the
Democrat-controlled Senate to block it.
The report paid particular attention to the Porcupine River
caribou herd, which is 125,000 strong and masses on the
Arctic coastal plain early each summer to gorge on tundra
grass and flowers and to give birth after a long migration
from the Canadian Yukon.
"Oil development will most likely result in restricting the
location of concentrated calving areas, calving sites and
annual calving grounds," the report said. Among the
expected effects, it said, are reductions in the survival
of calves in June, in the weight in pregnant females and in
the weight of calves in late June.
Proponents of drilling have long contended that the caribou
can easily coexist with drilling, just as a separate herd
(though one that is larger and has a less strenuous
migration pattern) has done with the drilling 100 miles or
so to the west, near Prudhoe Bay.
Both the White House and the Interior Department took pains
today to play down the report, arguing that it was based on
an earlier and more invasive plan for drilling that has
since been revised.
"We're not looking at what the U.S.G.S. studied," a White
House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, who was traveling with
President Bush in Texas, said today. "We are talking about
exploring a very small part" of the refuge.
An Interior Department spokesman in Washington, Mark
Pfeifle, told The Associated Press that the report
"bolsters the administration's mandate" to develop the
refuge with strict regard for environmental regulations.
"It demonstrates that with new technology, tough
regulations and common-sense management, we can protect
wildlife and produce energy," Mr. Pfeifle said.
But opponents of drilling quickly said the report was just
the latest in a string of findings by lower-level agencies
that directly contradicted administration assertions that
the refuge could be developed without harming the
"Once again the administration has released a report
undermining its own case," said Senator Joseph I.
Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut.
Just how much oil is locked below the Arctic permafrost is
unclear, but estimates are 3 billion to 16 billion barrels.
That would be only a few months of the nation's oil supply,
as drilling opponents say, using the lower range, or as
much as 30 years' worth of current daily imports from some
Middle Eastern countries, as supporters say, citing the
In addition to studying the caribou and geese, the report
analyzed drilling's impact on the roughly 300
prehistoric-looking musk oxen that are among the more
striking wildlife sights in the refuge.
"Musk oxen in the refuge are vulnerable to disturbance from
activities associated with petroleum exploration and
extraction because of their year-round residency, their
small population numbers and their need to conserve energy
throughout the long winter if they are to successfully
reproduce," the report said.
The oxen barely move in winter, an important factor in
keeping them alive in the frigid months. Drilling, the
report said, could change that by forcing them to use up
their own vital energy stores in moving away from the noise
and tumult of an industrial energy structure.
"Disturbances that induce displacement from prime winter
habitats or increase activity and movement," the report
said, "could increase energetic costs to musk oxen in
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