Saturday, November 12, 2005

Framing ANWR

Now that the House has pulled ANWR drilling out of its version of the budget bill, perhaps it won't slip through the back door as it appeared it would last week when I started in on the subject. However, the bill still needs to be resolved in conference, and there's still lots of politics to be played.

The Senate kept drilling in its version of the bill, without Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman's vote. With sufficient votes in hand for his party to pass an ANWR-linked bill, Coleman was able to take a principled stand against the drilling as he had promised in his campaign. Give him some credit, although it would have been interesting to see his position had the White House required his vote. I suspect he would have tipped, with a rehearsed expression of great sadness as he weighs the greater interests of all Minnsotans.

(You can see Coleman's — or any other Congressperson's — entire environmental voting record at the Sierra Club's Votewatch.)

As an NPR story summarizes, the ANWR wrestling match "has stretched more than three decades. It has been full of tricky legislative maneuvers, late-night votes and passionate lobbying efforts by both sides." In Congressional scuffles, as in World Wrestling Federation matches, the spectators are screaming for their guy/issue to win. But for the actors, individual victories are meaningless, except as plot points in the ongoing power struggle.

Whether you see ANWR drilling as a blow against foreign oil despots or against unborn caribou likely has little to do with the facts and a lot to do with your emotional identification with "energy independence" or "wilderness values." That's human nature. Plus, the facts are complicated, and they are being filtered through similar values screens.

Here's just one example of what I found as I tried to sift conflicting views.
The map published by advocates depicts the ANWR Coastal Plain — the non-wilderness area where drilling would be permitted — in go-go green, and then helpfully shows the 2,000 acres of "Proposed Development Area" to scale. This maps leaves the impression of a flyspeck in a region where other development has already taken place.
An NPR-created map shows the entire Proposed Drilling Area as a swath of stop-sign red, and the somewhat compressed projection creates an impression that ANWR and the Plain cover a larger portion of Alaska's land mass.

Language, color and total area in the two maps are each aligned with a certain point of view. I've measured the maps — the NPR map makes the ANWR area 5% wider and 13% deeper — but I can't tell you which is a better depiction of reality.

There's other potential distortion at work. Language in the bill authorizes production equipment and infrastructure to occupy an above ground "footprint" of no more than 2,000 (8km²) of ANWR's 19 million acres (77,000 km²), or approximately 0.01%. But Alaska Wild, which opposes drilling and refutes some of the pro- spin on its site suggests that the proponents' red dot shows only the allowed footprint as relative acreage and not the actual location of the drilling footprint:

There is nothing saying that the 2,000 acres has to be contiguous. Recent U.S. Geological Survey studies conclude that potential oil resources are located in many small accumulations in complex geological formations, rather than in one giant field like Prudhoe Bay. It is more likely that oil development would spread over a large region connected by roads, pipelines, power plants, processing plants, airports, gravel mines, powerlines, and other infrastructure.



There are other ways to frame this. As needed job creation, for instance.

The National Defense Council Foundation, a Republican organization chaired by Rep. Dan Burton, estimates 2.2 million U.S. jobs would be created, directly and indirectly, by opening ANWR to oil drilling. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the entire U.S. oil and gas extraction industry only had about 123,000 wage and salary jobs in 2002, and the Census bureau counted 2,771 such workers in Alaska, slightly more than in Kansas. Consider petroleum and coal products manufacturing currently employs only about 112,000 nationally. Figure in modest job creation for transportation and some construction. (Alaskan oil production is declining, and presumably new production would use some existing infrastructure, transportation and refining capacity.)

No word on how many of those jobs will be cleaning up oil spills, but 2 million seems high.

2 Comments:

Blogger troutsky said...

Certainly there is plenty of substance to the issue but in my opinion what gives it such high visibility is it's symbolic value as an expression of opposing philosophys on energy development in general,a line in the sand if you will.It is an opportunity for those against to point to it's value relative to conservation and energy use reduction, in other words sustainability.Those in favor want to highlight new technology as the way out of our modern environmental mess and reassert isolationist arguments around defense.

What none of the maps shows is the caribou routes to calving grounds and there importance to indigenous peoples.Using their model for growth, I can create thousands of new jobs by opening a Burger King as those wages filter through the economy but the big unanswered question is what is the end game? Is growth truly something which can be perpetually sustained, for eternity?

1:14 PM  
Blogger Charlie Quimby said...

Indeed, perpetual growth is the core issue, as I will continue to explore in future posts. This becomes much clearer visiting China, for example, than visiting the wilderness.

Someday, energy will be the issue.

6:15 PM  

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