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Arctic Drilling Still in the Balance

The 7.7 million hectares US Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska (ANWR, Figure 1) is one of North America’s and the world’s most pristine and diverse Arctic and sub-Arctic ecosystems (FWS 2001). It is the home of muskoxen, polar bears, snow geese and other migratory birds, and large herds of barrenground caribou (IISD 2005, MSNBC 2005). In March 2005, just over 600 000 hectares along the coastal plain, known as Section 1002, was designated for potential oil production as part of a US plan to reduce dependency on foreign oil. (The US imports about 60 per cent of the oil it consumes). A 1998 assessment predicted that there was a 50 per cent chance that a total of some 7 700 million barrels of mean crude oil might be technically recoverable in total from Section 1002. But at a price of US$24 a barrel only around 5 000 million would be economically recoverable – equivalent to only eight to nine month’s of US oil consumption (FWS 2001). Figure 2 shows estimates of the number of barrels of oil in section 1002 of the Refuge under various assumptions. Drilling in ANWR has been the source of much debate. While proponents claim that only a very small area will be directly affected, many environmentalists and scientists contend that it would have major detrimental impacts on the ecosystem, and that energy efficiency initiatives could save far more oil than is economically recoverable from the area over a 50-year period (UCSUSA 2002).
A drilling provision was removed from a US defence spending bill in late December, but the issue is likely to come up again in 2006. In September 2005, Canada informed the US government that if it allowed drilling in the Refuge, it would violate the 1987 Canada- United States Agreement on the Conservation of the Porcupine Caribou Herd. Canada claims drilling would have a devastating impact on the Porcupine Caribou as well as on the Gwich’in indigenous people, whose livelihoods and culture rely heavily on the herd (Government of Canada 2005c).

Box 3: Youth-at-risk clean up the Anacostia River
The Anacostia River, which runs into Washington D.C., is one of the most polluted rivers in the US. The US Environmental Protection Agency reports that every year, some 7 500 million litres of raw sewage is dumped into the Anacostia (NRDC 2002). Anacostia is also the name of a black D.C. neighbourhood known for poverty, drugs, and violent crime (Bradley 2005).
The Earth Conservation Corps (ECC), an innovative youth programme to restore the Anacostia River, aims to put local youth-at-risk on the path to a better future. Each year the ECC enrols 20 young people who commit themselves to doing 1 700 hours of environmental work a year in exchange for a small living allowance. If they fulfill their commitment, they receive a US$5 000 scholarship (ECC 2005). Since 1989, ECC has graduated more than 300 young people. One of the first ECC projects was the removal of nearly 5 000 tyres dumped in the river. The ECC also returned the Bald Eagle to the nation’s capital after a 50-year absence. With help from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, ECC youth built the young eagles a nest, fed them fish with a rope and pulley, and monitored their activities for months. Between 1994 and 1998, 16 eagles were released to the environment (ECC 2005).
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